Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Van Mildert, William
VAN MILDERT, WILLIAM (1765–1836), the last bishop of Durham to exercise the palatine dignities, belonged to a family formerly resident at Mildert or Meldert in North Brabant, but the first of them to settle in England came from Amsterdam about 1670. Some documents from the archives of the Dutch church in Austin Friars were communicated to Strype by Daniel Van Mildert, one of its ‘ancient elders’ (Annals, ed. 1826, vol. ii. pt. i. p. 422; cf. also Moens, Dutch Church Registers, pp. 51, 210, 212). The bishop's grandfather, Abraham Van Mildert (b. December 1680), a merchant first at Thames Street and then at Great St. Helen's, was a deacon of the Dutch church in 1711. His father was Cornelius Van Mildert, a distiller, of St. Mary, Newington, Surrey (d. 1799), who married Martha (1732–1818), daughter of William Hill of Vauxhall.
William, their second son, was born in Blackman Street, London, on 6 Nov. 1765 and baptised at Newington church on 8 Dec. by Samuel Horsley [q. v.] When about eight years old he was sent to St. Saviour's school, Southwark, and from 1779 to 1784 he was at Merchant Taylors' school, where he was much influenced by Samuel Bishop [q. v.] His first wish was to be apprenticed to the trade of a chemist, but he soon determined upon becoming a clergyman. At Merchant Taylors' he was friendly with (Sir) Albert Pell and Thomas Percy (1768–1808) [q. v.], and he contributed to Percy's ‘Poems by a Literary Society’ in 1784. He matriculated as a commoner from Queen's College, Oxford, on 21 Feb. 1784, graduating B.A. on 23 Nov. 1787, M.A. on 17 July 1790, and B.D. and D.D. in 1813 (cf. Nichols, Illustr. of Lit. iv. 787–8).
On Trinity Sunday 1788 Van Mildert was ordained deacon and licensed to the curacy of Lewknor, which he served from Oxford. Next year, when he was serving a curacy in Kent, he was ordained priest, and in 1790 he was appointed to the curacy of Witham in Essex. There he remained until 1795, and during those years he travelled in Holland and Belgium. On 24 April 1795 he was instituted, on the nomination of Cornelius Ives, his cousin and brother-in-law, to the rectory of Bradden, near Towcester. He was chaplain to the Grocers' Company, and through the influence of his uncle, Mr. Hill, was instituted in October 1796 to the rectory of St. Mary-le-Bow, London, on the nomination of the company, which had the presentation for that turn. As there was no parsonage-house suitable for his habitation, he lived for the most part until 1812 at 14 Ely Place, Holborn. He had not long been in possession of the living before he was sued for non-residence ‘by a qui tam attorney,’ or common informer, and his claim for exemption, through the want of a parsonage-house, was not held to exempt him from penalty; but he and several other city incumbents in similar circumstances were relieved from the consequences by an act of parliament.
Van Mildert was appointed Lady Moyer's lecturer at St. Paul's about 1797, and from 1802 to 1804 he preached the Boyle lectures. Their subject was ‘An Historical View of Infidelity, with a Refutation’ (London, 1806, 2 vols; 5th edit. 1838). They were received with great favour, although their value now lies in the information contained in the notes. In 1807 he was one of the editors of ‘The Churchman's Remembrancer,’ a collection in two volumes of tracts in defence of the church of England. By the gift of Archbishop Manners-Sutton he was collated on 10 April 1807 to the vicarage of Farningham in Kent; this benefice he held until late in 1813; he retained the rectory of St. Mary-le-Bow until August 1820.
In 1812 Van Mildert was elected by a large majority of the benchers to the preachership at Lincoln's Inn, which he held until he was raised to the episcopal bench. One of his earliest sermons preached in this new situation was ‘On the Assassination of Mr. Spencer Perceval,’ and it was printed in 1812. Two volumes of his scholarly ‘Sermons preached at Lincoln's Inn from 1812 to 1819’ were printed in 1831, and passed into a second edition in 1832. In 1813 he was appointed Bampton lecturer at Oxford. His discourses—‘An Inquiry into the General Principles of Scripture Interpretation’—were printed in 1815 and reprinted in 1832. In October 1813 he became regius professor of divinity at Oxford; to the professorship a canonry at Christ Church and the rectory of Ewelme were annexed.
Van Mildert was consecrated at Lambeth on 31 May 1819 to the bishopric of Llandaff. In the following January he declined the offer of the archbishopric of Dublin, but on 20 Aug. 1820 he was nominated to the deanery of St. Paul's. From midsummer 1821 he engaged Coldbrook House, near Abergavenny, and was the first prelate of Llandaff for many years to reside within the diocese. In 1826 he was translated to the rich see of Durham (confirmed 24 April), and he was the last count (often styled ‘prince’) palatine of Durham. His income was princely, and his generosity was equal to it. In conjunction with the dean and chapter he founded the university of Durham in 1832 (the university was opened in October 1833). The main part of the endowment came from the capitular revenues; but the bishop gave his Durham residence (The Castle), and 2,000l. a year until his death. He made very extensive alterations, not always in the best taste, in the chapel at Auckland Castle (Raine, Auckland Castle, pp. 95–6). During the assize week he entertained at dinner at Durham Castle upwards of two hundred guests, and on his four public days at Auckland Castle he feasted nearly three hundred persons. He gave the Duke of Wellington a sumptuous banquet at Durham Castle on 3 Oct. 1827, when Sir Walter Scott and Sir Thomas Lawrence were among the company. Scott gives a pleasant account of the entertainment, which exhibited ‘a singular mixture of baronial pomp with the grave and more chastened dignity of prelacy,’ and of the demeanour of the host, who showed ‘scholarship without pedantry and dignity without ostentation’ (Lockhart, Memoirs of Scott, vii. 71–4).
The bishop was an impressive preacher and speaker. ‘The substance of his speech in the House of Lords on 17 May 1825’ against Roman catholic claims was printed in that year, and he resisted them to the last. He assented, though with some hesitation, to the repeal of the Test Act, but he opposed the Reform Bill. He was seized with low fever on 11 Feb. 1836, and on 21 Feb. he died at Auckland Castle. His funeral sermon, afterwards printed, was preached by the Rev. Canon Townsend in the cathedral on 28 Feb., and he was buried immediately in front of the high altar on 1 March, the place being marked by a small slab with his initials. At the north end of the nine altars stands a full-sized statue by John Gibson, R.A., of the bishop, a lithograph of which, by R. J. Lane, was printed subsequently. A portrait of Van Mildert by Sir Thomas Lawrence hangs in the drawing-room at Auckland Castle; it was engraved by Thomas Lupton (published by M. Colnaghi, May 1831). He married at Witham, on 22 Dec. 1795, Jane, youngest daughter of General Douglas. She died at Harrogate on 19 Dec. 1837, and was buried in the same vault with the bishop in Durham Cathedral. An auction catalogue of his library was printed in 1836; the sale lasted ten days in June. He presented to Durham University a fine set of the St. Maur Benedictine Fathers.
The bishop was the author of many single sermons, a charge to Llandaff diocese (1821), and charges to the diocese of Durham (1827 and 1831). A volume of his sermons and charges was edited, with a memoir of him, by Cornelius Ives, rector of Bradden, in 1838. From 1823 to 1828 he was engaged in passing through the Clarendon press an elaborate edition of ‘The Works of Daniel Waterland’ [q. v.][Gent. Mag. 1836 i. 425–7, 1838 i. 221; Annual Biogr. and Obit. 1837, pp. 20–9; Biogr. Dict. of Living Authors (1816), p. 361; Foster's Alumni Oxon.; Baker's Northamptonshire, ii. 38; Robinson's Merchant Taylors' School, ii. 146; Le Neve's Fasti, ii. 257, 317, 526, iii. 298, 511; Churton's Joshua Watson, passim; Nichols's Literary Anecdotes, viii. 148; information from Dr. Kitchin, dean of Durham.]