Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Shipley, Jonathan
SHIPLEY, JONATHAN (1714–1788), bishop of St. Asaph, born in 1714, was son of Jonathan Shipley (d. 1749), a native of Leeds, who resided in after life at Walbrook, and was a citizen and stationer of London. His mother, Martha (d. 1757), was a member of a family named Davies, owners of Twyford House, near Winchester. The Twyford property came to the bishop at the death, in 1765, of his mother's brother, William Davies. William Shipley [q. v.] was the bishop's brother (cf. Jackson, St. George's Church, Doncaster, p. 116).
Jonathan was educated at Reading, and proceeded to St. John's College, Oxford (1731), but migrated to Christ Church before he graduated B.A. in 1735. He contributed an English piece to the Oxford poems on the death of Queen Caroline, his verses being considered the best in the volume. Soon after proceeding M.A. in 1738 he took holy orders. He became tutor in the family of Charles Mordaunt, third earl of Peterborough, and married, about 1743, Anna Maria (d 1803), the earl's niece, daughter of Hon. George Mordaunt, and one of Queen Caroline's maids of honour. In this year also he was instituted to the rectories of Silchester and Sherborne St. John, Hampshire, and was made prebendary of Winchester by Bishop Hoadly. He accompanied the Duke of Cumberland as chaplain-general of the army in the campaign of Fontenoy (1745). In 1748, when he proceeded D.D. at Oxford, he was made canon of Christ Church, but retained his previous preferments. In 1760 he became dean of Winchester, and was instituted to the rectory of Chilbolton, Hampshire (Chilbolton Register, 13 June), holding it by dispensation with Sherborne and Silchester. Early in 1769 he was consecrated bishop of Llandaff, with which the living of Bedwas was united, and later in the same year he was translated to the see of St. Asaph. Thereupon he resigned all previous preferments except Chilbolton.
The inner history of his elevation to the bench cannot be traced. His consecration to one see and his translation to another within a single year (1769) suggest that he was then high in favour with the king and his subservient minister, the Duke of Grafton. But in a sermon preached next year before the House of Lords he endorsed the whig doctrine as to the foundation of royal supremacy, and soon showed signs of difference with ‘his friends and even the respectable minister who raised him.’ He avowedly joined the opposition, ‘to whom he was a perfect stranger’ (Works, ii. 61), owing to the king's policy towards the American colonies. In his attitude to this question, he was largely influenced by a deepening friendship with Benjamin Franklin, who had enjoyed ‘the sweet air of Twyford’ as early as 1771. Hinchliffe, bishop of Peterborough, was the only other member of the episcopal bench who sympathised with his views. In 1773 Shipley preached before the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel a sermon containing a warm eulogy of the American colonies. Franklin, in commenting on it, avers that public opinion considered it to have been written ‘in compliment to himself,’ and that the bishop by his bold statement, ‘in the mere hope of doing good,’ had ‘hazarded the displeasure of the court’ and ‘the prospect of future preferment’ (Works, viii. 40). In 1774, after voting against the alteration of the constitution of Massachusetts, proposed as a punishment for the tea-ship riots at Boston, Shipley published a speech which for some reason he had not delivered. It was considered a masterpiece at the time. ‘I look upon North America,’ he said, ‘as the only great nursery of freemen left on the face of the earth.’ In the debate of 1778, memorable for the last speech of Chatham, Shipley voted with the Duke of Richmond against the continuance of the war. The policy of Lord Rockingham, alike in opposition and in office, had Shipley's warm support. When peace was at length in sight, Franklin wrote to the bishop: ‘The cause of liberty and America has been greatly obliged to you. I hope you will live long to see that country flourish under its new constitution’ (Works, ix. 229). On his way from Paris to America Franklin met ‘the good bishop’ and his family at Portsmouth, and gave them his miniature. Three years later, when Catherine Shipley announced to him her father's death, he replied with tender sympathy: had the ‘counsels of his sermon and speech been attended to, how much bloodshed might have been prevented’ and ‘disgrace to the nation avoided!’
It is not only in regard to American independence that Shipley stood out in solitary and far-sighted opposition. Alone of the bishops he declared in a stinging speech (1779) for the repeal of all the laws against protestant dissenters, characterising the enactments as ‘the disgrace of the National Church.’ He would have nothing to say to the confession of faith which was proposed as a condition of relaxation. It would turn the law into a ‘new penal law itself.’ Toleration was not properly a question for the church, but for the state. ‘And allow me to say,’ he added, ‘with all respect to this right reverend bench, that we are not the men to whose decision I would commit it.’
In June 1782 Franklin expressed the hope that Shipley would be promoted, as Rockingham was then in power. Horace Walpole deemed him the likeliest man for Salisbury (Letters, viii. 238). But the see was given to Shute Barrington. On 19 March 1783 Cornwallis, archbishop of Canterbury, died, and the coalition ministry, which was imminent, might possibly have recommended Shipley as primate. But on the very eve of its formation the king gave the archbishopric to Moore (Wraxall, Memoirs, ii. 315–16).
According to a family tradition, he might have been primate if he would have abandoned his opposition to the war. But his charges of 1778 and 1782 render it hardly possible that his promotion could have been sanctioned by the king. ‘Princes,’ he says, ‘are the trustees, not the proprietors of their people.’ He pleads for shorter parliaments, disfranchisement of small boroughs, ‘safeguards against that encroaching power from which neither we nor our fathers have been sufficiently able to secure ourselves.’ Shipley died on 6 Dec. 1788, at Chilbolton, at the age of seventy-eight, and was buried at Twyford, where his monument, with a medallion by Nollekens, still exists.
The bishop's son William Davies is noticed separately. His eldest daughter Anna Maria, married Sir William Jones [q. v.], the orientalist, while Georgiana married Francis Hare-Naylor [q. v.], and was mother of Julius and of Augustus Hare.
Shipley mixed mainly in political society. Burke was one of his intimate friends, and, through his daughter Georgiana's genius for painting, Sir Joshua Reynolds was another.
According to a contemporary eulogy, Shipley ‘was what a bishop ought to be,’ but the contemporary ideal of episcopal duty was low. Slightly improving on the example of his ‘friend and patron’ Hoadly, who never visited his diocese of Bangor, Shipley resided about a month in the year at St. Asaph, the palace being in a poor condition (Bishop Short's manuscripts at St. Asaph). The rest of the year was divided between London, Chilbolton, and Twyford. His four charges betrayed no religious fervour, but they gave dignified expression to a liberality of political sentiment which lends his career great historical interest.
There is a portrait by Sir Joshua Reynolds in the possession of Mrs. Conway Shipley at Twyford, of which there is a replica at Bodrhyddan, near St. Asaph. Two copies of it, made by his daughter Georgiana under the eye of Sir Joshua Reynolds, are in the possession of Mr. Augustus J. C. Hare.[Works, 2 vols. 1792; Wilberforce's Corresp. vol. i.; Browne Willis's Survey of St. Asaph; Hare's Memorials of a Quiet Life; Sparks's Works of Benjamin Franklin.]