Sheldon, Gilbert

, archbishop of Canterbury, was youngest son of Roger Sheldon of Stanton in Staffordshire, and was born there July 19, 1593. His Christian name was given him at his baptism by Gilbert earl of Shrewsbury, to whom his father was a menial servant, although descended from the ancient family of the Sheldons of Staffordshire. In the latter end of 1613 he was admitted a commoner of Trinity college, Oxford, and took the degree of bachelor of arts Nov. 27, 1617, and that of master, May 20, 1620. In 1622 he was elected fellow of All Souls’ college, and about the same time entered into holy orders, and afterwards became domestic chaplain to the lord keeper Coventry, who gave him a prebend of Gloucester. The lord keeper had a high esteem for him, and employed him^ in various affairs relating both to church and state. Lord Clarendon, who mentions this, adds, that Sheldon was very early looked upon as equal to any preferment the church could yield; and sir Francis Wen man would often say, when Sheldon visited at lord Falkland’s house, that “he was born and bred to be archbishop of Canterbury.” Lord Coventry therefore recommended him to Charles I, as a person well versed in political affairs. He was some time rector of Ickford in Bucks, and presented to the | rectory of Newington by archbishop Laud. November 11, 1628, he proceeded bachelor of divinity; and, May 2, 1632, he was presented by the king to the vicarage of Hackney in Middlesex, then void by the promotion of David Dolben to the bishopric of Bangor. On June 25, 1634, he compounded for his degree of doctor of divinity; and in the middle of March 1635, was elected warden of All Souls* college. About the same time he wrote some letters to Mr. Chilling-worth concerning subscription to the thirtynine articles, who had some scruples on that obligation (see Chillingworth). Dr. Sheldon became chaplain in ordinary to his majesty, and was afterwards clerk of the closet, and was intended for master of the Savoy; but the commotions which ensued prevented those promotions. During the rebellion he adhered to the royal cause, and in Feb. 1644- was one of the, king’s chaplains sent by his majesty to attend his commissioners at the treaty of Uxbridge, vvUere he argued so earnestly in favour of the church, as to incur the resentment of the parliamentary commissioners, which they afterwards made him feel. In April 1646 he attended the king at Oxford, and was witness to a remarkable vow which his majesty made there, the purport of which was, that when it should please God to re-establish his throne, he would restore to the church all impropriations, lands, &c. which were taken from any episcopal see, cathedral, collegiate church, &c. This vow, which is in the appendix to Echard’s history, was preserved thirteen years under ground by Dr. Sheldon. In August 1647 there passed some letters between Dr. Sheldon and several gentlemen, then prisoners in the Tower of London for the royal cause, who had scruples about applying for their liberty to the usurping powers, if in the king’s opinion such application should seem prejudicial to his majesty’s interest. On submitting this matter to the king, he gave them permission to act as they should think fit.

During his majesty’s being at Newmarket that year, and afterwards in the Isle of Wight, Dr. Sheldon attended on him as one of his chaplains. On March 30, 1647-8, he was ejected from his wardenship by the parliament-visitors, and imprisoned with Dr. Hammond, in Oxlord, and other places, that they might not only be no hindrance to the changes going on in the university, but be prevented from attending the king at the Isle of Wight. Dr. Sheldon remained confined above six months, and then the reforming | committee set him at liberty, Oct. 24, 1648, on condition that he should never come within five miles of Oxford; that he should not go to the king in the Isle of Wight, and that he should give security to appear before them at fourteen days’ warning, whenever cited. Upon his release he retired to Snelston in Derbyshire, where, at his own expence, and by contributions from his friends, he sent money constantly to the exiled king, and followed his studies until the approach of the restoration. On March 4, 1659-60, Dr. John Palmer, who iiad ^been placed in the wardenship in his room, dying, and there being an immediate prospect of his majesty’s return, there was no election made of a successor, but Dr. Sheldon was restored, though he never took re-possession. On the king’s return he met his majesty at Canterbury, and was soon after made dean of the royal chapel; and upon bishop Juxon’s translation to the see of Canterbury, was made bishop of London, to which he was elected October 9, 1660, and consecrated the 28th of that month. He held the mastership of the Savoy with that bishopric; and the famous conference between the episcopal and presbyterian clergy concerning alterations to be made in the liturgy, in 1661, was held at his loggings in the Savoy, in the course of which he exerted himself much against the presbyterians. Upon archbishop Juxon’s death he was elected to the see of Canterbury Aug. 11, 1663. In 1665, during the time of the plague, he continued at Lambeth, and exerted the utmost benevolence to those who would otherwise have perished in their necessities; and by his letters to all the bishops, procured considerable sums to be returned out of all parts of his province. On December 20, 1667, he was elected chancellor of the university of Oxford, but on the 31st of July, 1669, resigned that office. He died at Lambeth, November 9, 1677, in the eightieth year of his age, and was interred in Croydon church in Surrey, where a monument was erected to his memory by his heir, sir Joseph Sheldon, then lately lord mayor of London, son of his elder brother Ralph Sheldon of Stanton in Staffordshire.

Dr. Sheldon’s character has been represented with the discordance that must be expected in the reports of contending parties. It would appear on an impartial view of contemporary authorities, that he was more eminent as a politician than a divine; and that in the former character, resentment of personal injuries, as well as of the more | extensive evils brought on the church by the abettors of the usurpation, led him to take a very decided and severe part in the penal laws enacted against the nonconformists. Burnet, with due allowance for his talents and many good qualities, speaks with censure on his conduct in this respect. The character given of him by Dr. Samuel Parker, bishop of Oxford, who had been his chaplain, seems in a great degree to correspond with other authorities, and confirms the general opinion that Sheldon was not precise as a divine.

Parker, in his “Comrnentarii de rebus sui temporis,” tells us, that archbishop Sheldon (t was a man of undoubted piety; but though he was very assiduous at prayers, yet he did not set so great a value on them as others did, nor regarded so much worship as the use of worship, placing the chief point of religion in the practice of a good life. In his daily discourse he cautioned those about him not to deceive themselves with an half religion, nor to think that divine worship was confined within the walls of the church, the principal part of it being without doors, and consisting in being conversant with mankind. If men led an upright, sober, chaste life, then and not till then they might look upon themselves as religious; otherwise it would signify nothing what form of religion bad men followed, or to what church they belonged. Therefore having spoken to this effect, he added with a kind of exultation and joy, ‘Da well, and rejoice/ His advice to young noblemen and gentlemen, who by their parents’ commands resorted daily to him, was always this; ’ Let it be your principal care to become honest men, and afterwards be as devout and religious as you will. No piety will be of any advantage to yourselves or any body else, unless you are honest and moral men/ He had a great aversion to all pretences to extraordinary piety, which covered real dishonesty; but had a sincere affection for those, whose religion was attended with integrity of manners. His worthy notions of religion meeting with an excellent temper in him, gave him that even tranquillity of mind, by which he was still himself, and always the same, in adversity as well as in prosperity; and neither over rated nor despised life, nor feared nor wished for death, but lived agreeably to himself and others."

It is as a prelate of great munificence that Sheldon will be handed down to posterity with the highest honours. On the accession of Charles II. when the members of the | university who bad been ejected by the usurping powers, be* gan to restore the ancient establishments, a design was formed of erecting some building for the acts, exercises, &c. which had formerly been performed in St. Mary’s church, with some inconvenience to the university, and some injury to the church. Certain houses were accordingly purchased, which stood on the site of the present theatre; and in 1664, Sheldon, then archbishop of Canterbury, having contributed [QOOl. the foundation-stone was laid July 26, with great solemnity before the vice chancellor, heads of houses, &c. And when no other benefactors appeared to promote the work, archbishop Sheldon munificently took upon himself the whole expence, which amounted to 12,470l. 1 \s. \\d. and gave also 2000l. to be laid out in estates for repairs, or the surplus to be applied to the establishment of a printing-house. The architect employed was the celebrated sir Christopher Wren, and the building was completed in about five years. It was one of sir Christopher’s first works, and a happy presage of the talents which he afterwards displayed in the metropolis. Nor did the archbishop’s liberality stop here. Mr. Henry Wharton has enumerated the following sums he bestowed on other public purposes: To lord Petre for the purchase of London House, the residence of the bishops of London, 5200l. He abated in his fines for the augmentation of vicarages 1680l. He gave towards the repair of St. Paul’s before the fire 2169l. 17s. lOd. and the repairs of his houses at Fulham, Lambeth, and Croydon, 4500l. To All Souls’ chapel, Trinity college chapel, Christ church, Oxford, and Lichfield cathedral, 450l. When first made bishop, the leases being all expired, he abated in his fines 17,733l. including probably the article of 1680l. above mentioned. 1


Biog. Brit. Le Neve, —Ath. Ox. vol. II. -Wood’s Annals, Burnet’s Own Times, &c.