George Pretyman, bishop of Lincoln, and the University of Cambridge 1787-1801

Reider Payne


This article examines the role of George Pretyman, bishop of Lincoln, as church appointments adviser, and the complexities of ecclesiastical patronage during the first administration of William Pitt the Younger. The criteria for patronage will be illustrated using three case studies from the University of Cambridge, an institution which emerges as a key concern in the patronage networks of Pitt and the bishop.

Citation Information

To cite this article: Reider Payne, ‘George Pretyman, bishop of Lincoln, and the University of Cambridge 1787–1801’, CCEd Online Journal 3, 2008.



This article will examine George Pretyman, bishop of Lincoln (1750–1827) ((George Tomline from 1803. But he will be referred to throughout the main body of this chapter as Pretyman. He was bishop of Winchester from 1820. For an overview of the bishop’s career, see Grayson Ditchfield, ‘Sir George Pretyman-Tomline (1750–1827): ecclesiastical politician and theological polemicist’ in Religious identities in Britain 1660–1832, ed. William Gibson and Robert G. Ingram (Aldershot, 2005), p. 277. I am most grateful to Professor Ditchfield for sending me a copy of this chapter before its publication.)) and the complexities of ecclesiastical patronage under the first administration of William Pitt the Younger (1783–1801). In order to show the range of issues and considerations which surrounded the disposal of Church appointments at this period, I shall focus on three specific case studies involving the University of Cambridge. ((For a thorough analysis of crown patronage under the first duke of Newcastle, see Stephen Taylor, ‘Church and state in the mid-eighteenth century.:the Newcastle years 1742–1762’, unpublished PhD dissertation, University of Cambridge, 1987.)) The first case study surrounds the appointment of a master of Trinity College in 1788; the second Pretyman’s relationship to Isaac Milner, the president of Queens’ College. The final case looks at the appointment of Peter Peckard to the deanery of Peterborough in 1792. Pretyman, appointed in January 1787 to the see of Lincoln, with the deanery of St Paul’s in commendam, was a central figure in the political and ecclesiastical worlds of the late-eighteenth century. Once appointed by Pitt to a bishopric, Pretyman became in all but name the first minister’s ecclesiastical appointments’ adviser. ((Pretyman would effectively eclipse the primacy of John Moore, archbishop of Canterbury. For an example of the archbishop’s weakness, see The National Archives, Chatham papers, PRO 30/8/161, fo. 9: Moore to Pitt, 19 Jan. 1792. For earlier examples of ecclesiastical advisers, see Taylor, ‘Church and state in the mid-eighteenth century’, p. 109, on Bishop Gibson’s eclipse of Archbishop Wake; see also pp. 108–10 for the roles of Gibson, Thomas Sherlock and Thomas Secker under Newcastle.)) The two men had become close when Pitt had gone up to Pembroke Hall, Cambridge in 1773, where Pretyman, who had gained his degree in 1767, had been elected a fellow. During their time at Cambridge, Pitt and Pretyman would forge a lifelong friendship which would only be broken by the First Minister’s death in 1806. ((See Pembroke College Annual Gazette (1934) pp. 12–13. Pretyman became Pitt’s unofficial secretary in 1784 with apartments in Downing Street. His first preferments came rapidly – a stall at Westminster in 1784 and the rectory of Sudbourne, Suffolk, in 1785.))

The University of Cambridge emerges as an important consideration in the patronage relationship between Pitt and Pretyman, both Cambridge men. Pitt represented the university in the Commons from 1784 and was elected High Steward in 1790. Many positions at the university were in the hands of Anglican clergy, and Cambridge clerics were to the forefront of those approaching Pitt for patronage. One Cambridge graduate, Henry Gunning, wrote in 1854 about Pitt’s visits to the university. He reminisced that on such occasions it ‘was evident the rulers of the University could not forget they were in the presence of a man who had the power of dispensing Bishoprics and Deaneries’. ((Henry Gunning, Reminiscences of the university, town, and county of Cambridge from the year 1780 (2 vols, London, 1854), I, 182.)) Conversely, a detailed analysis of the correspondence between Pitt and Pretyman illustrates their desire to stand well with the university. ((Pitt’s letters to the bishop are in the Pretyman papers, at the East Suffolk Record Office [ESRO] in Ipswich; Pretyman’s to Pitt are largely in the Stanhope of Chevening papers, at the Centre for Kentish Studies [CKS], Maidstone.)) For example, in 1787, Pitt was anxious not to cause offence to ‘our Cambridge Friends’ over an episcopal appointment, while another letter in 1797 showed Pretyman’s desire to find suitable preferment for Philip Douglas, the master of Corpus Christi College, simply because ‘the University would be pleased’. ((ESRO, HA119 T108/42: Pitt to Pretyman, 4 Nov. 1787; CKS, Stanhope Papers, U1590 S5 34: 5 Feb. 1797. Douglas actually received no further preferment after 1796.)) It is this centrality of the university which makes it an important snap-shot on Church patronage under Pitt and Pretyman.

There are hints of a tendency to neglect Oxford University in the two men’s patronage calculations. For example, a 1795 letter from Cyril Jackson, dean of Christ Church, to the third duke of Portland, chancellor of Oxford University, grumbled about the calibre of appointments made to canonries of Christ Church by Pitt. ((Nottingham University Library [NUL], Portland Papers PIC 51/5/1: 15 Mar. 1795.)) Further, Jackson seemed not to hold that high an opinion of Pretyman himself – possibly because of his role as Pitt’s appointments adviser. ((See NUL, PwF 5765/1: 23 Oct. 1794.)) While Pitt and Pretyman were keen to preserve the traditional balance on the bench of bishops between the two universities, what emerges clearly in the letters of the two men is that the affairs of Cambridge and the careers of its clergy were uppermost in their minds.

The three patronage examples in this article are well-placed to draw out the calculations that Pitt and Pretyman needed to make when distributing preferment. The importance of Trinity to Pitt’s calculations becomes apparent in the complex manoeuvrings to dispose of it satisfactorily. Trinity also sheds light on the administration’s relationship to two of the most prominent latitudinarians of the late-eighteenth century – John Hinchliffe and Richard Watson, bishops of Peterborough and Llandaff respectively. The case study of Isaac Milner again demonstrates the importance of Cambridge politics and illustrates how Pretyman encouraged those who fought heterodoxy and radicalism. It further sheds light on the bishop’s attitude to evangelical christianity, as represented by Milner. Both cases are a long way from the political calculations that will be demonstrated in the promotion of the distinctly heterodox Peter Peckard to a deanery.

The theology of George Pretyman

At this stage, it would be beneficial to look at Pretyman’s theological opinions as they would have a bearing on his conduct during the three Cambridge case studies illustrated in this paper. Pretyman has been termed a high churchman. ((See Peter Nockles, The Oxford movement in context. Anglican high churchmanship 1760–1857 (1994; rev. edn, 1997), p. 29n. See also Robert Hole, Pulpits, politics and public order in England 1760–1832 (Cambridge, 1989), p. 79; John Gascoigne, Cambridge in the age of the Enlightenment (Cambridge, 1989), p. 218.)) Peter Nockles has stressed the common outlook of many high churchmen of this era, which included maintaining the doctrine of apostolical succession, the ‘supremacy’ of scripture, a high regard for the writings of the early fathers and a belief in ‘the divine rather than popular’ origin of political allegiance. However, there were varying strands of high church thought. ((Nockles, Oxford movement, pp. 25–6; see pp. 25–32.)) For example, Grayson Ditchfield tempered notions of Pretyman as a high churchman, notably in his attitude to the executed Charles I. ((Ditchfield, ‘Pretyman-Tomline’, pp. 285–7)) This was given full rein in his 30 January 1789 sermon before the House of Lords. ((See Ditchfield, ‘Pretyman-Tomline’, pp. 286–7.)) This sermon condemned Charles I as a man who ‘avowed the most unconstitutional principles’. The king was also criticized for failing to discourage Catholicism, and for continuing ‘to employ Papists in situations of trust and importance, and in offices of honour about his own person.’ ((George Pretyman, A sermon preached before the Lords spiritual and temporal in the Abbey Church of Westminster on Friday January 30, 1789 (London, 1789), p. 13.))

Pretyman, as illustrated in his 1789 sermon, was strongly anti-Catholic. In his 1797 thanksgiving sermon, for victories at sea, he again attacked Catholicism. ((George Pretyman, A sermon preached at the Cathedral Church of St Paul, London, before his majesty, and both houses of parliament, On Tuesday, December 19th 1797 being the day appointed for a general thanksgiving (London, 1798), pp. 11, 22.)) Pretyman also expressed contempt for the methodists and in his 1800 Charge to his diocesan clergy, warned of those whose ‘especial call or gift of grace … supersedes the necessity of education and of the regular ordination’. The danger from these individuals was that they ‘profess to believe all its [anglicanism’s] doctrines, and yet renounce its authority and revile its ministers’. ((George Pretyman, A charge delivered to the clergy of the diocese of Lincoln, at the triennial visitation of that diocese, in June and July 1800 (London, 1800), pp. 18–19.)) However, especial targets for Pretyman’s ire were the Evangelicals within his own church, especially as their theology ‘tended towards a moderate Calvinism’. ((Grayson Ditchfield, The evangelical revival (London, 1998), p. 107.)) John Gascoigne described Pretyman as a ‘declared foe’ of such clergy, although Grayson Ditchfield noted that Pretyman’s dislike of evangelicalism was not absolute.  ((Gascoigne, Cambridge in the age of the Enlightenment, p. 257; Ditchfield, ‘Pretyman-Tomline’, p. 294.)) However, the bishop was quite capable of blocking the advancement of undesirable Evangelical clergy in his own diocese as seen in a letter from William Hey to William Wilberforce in 1794, complaining of the ‘mischievous opposition your friend the Bp of Lincoln is now making to the religious clergy, and pious candidates’. ((Bodleian Library [Bodl.], Wilberforce Papers, MS Wilberforce d.15/1, f. 40, 26 Oct. 1794.)) The term ‘friend’ had many connotations in the eighteenth century. Although Hey may simply be referring to Pretyman as a political ally, it is more than possible that he cannot resist a little sarcasm in this description. If so, it is an early indicator of evangelical distrust towards the bishop.

The 1790s and the 1800s saw the start of a battle for the Church’s soul, waged, as one correspondent wrote to The Christian Observer in November 1803, between ‘orthodox Calvinists and orthodox Non-Calvinists’. ((The Christian Observer (Nov. 1803), p. 694 (anonymous letter).)) The debate over the Calvinist interpretation of the Church’s Articles, notably over the nature of justification seen in numerous reviews and articles of the opposing camps, filled the pages of such periodicals as The British Critic, The Anti-Jacobin, The Orthodox Churchman’s Magazine and The Christian Observer.

John Overton’s True Churchmen Ascertained (1801) was the most thorough contemporary attempt to explain these Calvinist precepts, including justification by faith. He argued that the tenets of the English reformers were ‘those now usually termed Calvinistic’. ((John Overton, The true churchmen ascertained; or,an apology for those of the regular clergy of the establishment, who are sometimes called evangelical ministers (1801; York, 1802), p. 54.)) He further expanded on justification:

What WE mean by this faith is well expressed in the definition of it in the homily on salvation. ‘The right and true Christian faith,’ it is here affirmed, ‘is, not only to believe that holy scripture, and all the foresaid articles of our faith are true, but also to have a sure trust and confidence in God’s merciful promises to be saved from everlasting damnation by Christ: whereof doth follow a loving heart to obey his commandments.’ It is a cordial belief of God’s testimony and a reliance on his promises… Justifying faith, therefore, especially implies, a receiving with interest and approbation, ‘the witness of God which he hath testified of his Son,’ and a sure trust and confidence in God for salvation through Christ Jesus. ((Overton,True churchmen, p. 188.))

Overton strongly believed that the Church’s doctrines did not state a belief in justification by faith and good works. Indeed, he argued ‘is it not very strange that in none of her express writings on the subject she should have affirmed this?’ Time and again he emphasized that justification was by faith alone. ((Overton, True churchmen, p. 218; see pp. 178–219)) Overton’s work was intended as a riposte to Charles Daubeny, who in turn had criticized the views of William Wilberforce.

It was the publication of William Wilberforce’s Practical view (1797) that had helped to ignite the debate. He castigated the established clergy, a stance which would not have endeared him to Bishop Pretyman. ((William Wilberforce, A practical review of the prevailing religious system of professed christians, in the higher and middle classes in this country, contrasted with real christianity (Dublin, 1797) , p. 47.)) He also urged the reformation of religious teaching in the schools and universities. ((See Wilberforce, Practical view, p. 304.)) Although Nancy Murray has argued that many Evangelicals were Arminians, rather than Calvinists, ((See Nancy Murray, ‘The influence of the French revolution on the Church of England and its rivals, 1789–1802’, unpublished D.Phil dissertation, University of Oxford, 1975, p. 292.)) Practical view laid great stress on the one error ‘generally prevalent’. This error was ‘of exaggerating the merit of certain amiable and useful qualities, and of considering themselves sufficient to compensate for the supreme love and fear of God’. Wilberforce then went further and argued ‘That in short it is by FAITH IN CHRIST only that he is to be justified in the sight of God’. ((Wilberforce, Practical view, pp. 179, 237.))

Wilberforce’s book was answered by Charles Daubeny’s Guide to the Church (1798). ((Charles Daubeny, A guide to the Church in several discourses; to which are added two postscripts; first to those members of the Church, who occasionally frequent other places of public worship, the second to the clergy. Addressed to William Wilberforce Esq (London, 1798) pp. 91–2.)) Daubeny stressed the need for good works and acknowledged his disagreement with Wilberforce over the word ‘faith’. ((See Daubeny, Guide, pp. 273–381)) He further reminded the author of Practical view that ‘railing against the clergy of the establishment, has been that prepatory step to its subversion’. ((Daubeny, Guide, p.379.)) Pretyman was also heavily involved in these Calvinistic debates. He detested the theories of Calvin and in his first major work Elements of christian theology (1799) sought to downplay the Calvinist tones of some of the Church’s articles. For example, in dealing with the seventeenth article ‘Of predestination and election’ he argued thus:

God, is represented in Scripture as having pre-ordained the redemption of mankind, through Christ, before the foundation of the world. This redemption was to be in the nature of a covenant between God and man; and the salvation of every individual was to depend upon his observance of the proposed conditions. Man in consequence of their free agency would have it in their power to accept or reject this offered salvation; and God by his prescience foresaw who would accept, and who would reject it. Those, who he foresaw would perform the conditions of the Gospel covenant may be said to be predestined for life, ’for whom he did foreknow he also did predestinate’. This appears to me, the only sense in which predestination is reconcilable with the attributes of God, and the free agency of man… ((George Pretyman, Elements of christian theology (2 vols, London, 1799), II, 299–300.))

Pretyman maintained that ‘the doctrines maintained’ in this article were ‘by no means conformable to the principles of Calvin’. ((Pretyman, Elements, II, 311; see pp. 297–316)) He also praised the twelfth article ‘Of good works’, stating that the performance of such works was ‘indeed the test and criterion of genuine faith’. ((Pretyman, Elements, II, 268; see pp. 265–71.))

Pretyman’s Refutation of Calvinism (1811) gave full voice to his anti-Calvinist sentiments. In this work he again criticised Calvinism’s belief that ‘God has eternally fixed the future destiny of every individual of the human race; that he has irrevocably decreed to bestow everlasting happiness upon some, and to consign others to eternal misery, without any regard to their merit or demerit.’ Pretyman, ever mindful of any dangers to the established law and order of the kingdom, was quick to condemn this doctrine as a danger to both.  ((George Tomline, A refutation of calvinism (London, 1811), p. 269.)) Pretyman was also far from impressed with those who ‘profess a sort of moderate Calvinism … purged of its most offensive tenets’ while ‘retaining only those which are less revolting to reason and common sense’. ((Tomline, Refutation, p. 569.)) The bishop was concerned that the Church was ‘in no small danger from the active hostility of those who profess Calvinistic doctrines’. ((Tomline, Refutation, p. 284. This was condemned by Isaac Milner, see Mary Milner, The life of Isaac Milner D.D., F.R.S. (London, 1842), p. 445)) He again stressed the christian’s need for justification through good works and argued that if these came to be regarded as ‘of little comparative importance’ the result would surely be ‘a laxity of principle and a dissoluteness of manners’. ((Tomline, Refutation, p. 172.))

Pretyman was also to be seen by contemporaries as a man who set his face against earlier latitudinarian theology. John Gascoigne defined latitudinarianism, ‘coined to suggest theological breadth of vagueness’, as characterized by clergy who ‘tended to emphasise those doctrines’ on which most protestants could agree ‘rather than on the theological points that were likely to cause divisions’. ((Gascoigne, Cambridge, p. 4. See also Martin Fitzpatrick, ‘Latitudinarianism at the parting of the ways: a suggestion’, in The Church of England c.1689 – c.1833. From toleration to tractarianism, ed. John Walsh, Colin Haydon and Stephen Taylor (Cambridge, 1993), p. 209.)) It has been argued that latitudinarianism ‘shaped the education of generations of Cambridge ordinands under the first two Georges’. ((John Walsh and Stephen Taylor, ‘Introduction: the Church and anglicanism in the “long” eighteenth century’, in Church of England, ed. Walsh, Haydon and Taylor, p. 37.))  A number of these Cambridge clerics were certainly behind the unsuccessful 1772 Feathers Tavern petition, seeking reform of subscription to the Church’s Thirty-Nine Articles. Such a relaxation to subscription went to the heart of latitudinarian thinking. One such Cambridge man, Robert Plumptre, president of Queens’ College, was a noted supporter of the petition. Plumptre questioned ‘whether some other Expedient, than such Subscription to Articles may not be substituted in its Place’ which could be ‘as effectual to the Preservation of the Church of England, and not so burdensome to its real (perhaps best) Friends, who wish its Amendment and consequent Prosperity, not (as they have been reproached) its Destruction’. ((Thoughts on the dangers apprehended from popery and sectaries, by abolishing subscription to the Thirty-Nine Articles in a letter to a friend. To which is added a letter first published in The General Evening Post under the signature of Probus [identified as Plumptre] (London, 1772), pp. 29–30.)) Latitudinarianism though was in retreat by the 1770s. As F. C. Mather argued, it had ‘lost the battle for the soul’ of the Anglican Church. ((F. C. Mather, High church prophet. Bishop Samuel Horsley (1733–1806) and the Caroline tradition in the later Georgian Church (Oxford, 1992), p. 21. See also Gascoigne, Cambridge, p. 194.)) George III took a dim view of those suspected of latitudinarian tendencies, and under Lord North’s administration (1770–82) a number of high churchmen had been promoted, although this period should not be seen as simply an era of orthodox reaction. ((John Green, bishop of Lincoln, earned royal disfavour after voting for the Dissenters’ Relief Bill of 1773. Notable high churchmen who were promoted included George Horne and Nathan Wetherell. For a balanced essay on the North era see G. M. Ditchfield, ‘Ecclesiastical policy under Lord North’, in Church of England, ed. Walsh, Haydon and Taylor, pp. 228–46.)) Pretyman’s role as adviser would consolidate this process further. Indeed, his Elements endeavoured to show that the Articles were ‘founded in Scripture, and conformable to the opinions of the early Christians’. He believed that if any clergyman dissented from a single one ‘no hope of emolument or honour, no dread of inconvenience or disappointment should induce him to express his solemn assent’. Every Anglican clergyman should ‘from his own conviction maintain the purity of our established religion and sincerely and zealously enforce those points of faith which our church declares to be the revealed will of God’. ((Pretyman, Elements, pp. 566–7.))

His reputation as a champion of Anglican orthodoxy can be seen when he was singled out for an indirect attack by the unitarian Joseph Priestley in 1787, in his condemnation of Pitt’s rejection of the attempts to repeal the Test and Corporation Acts. The reason for Pitt’s mistake in this, argued Priestley, was due to his having been educated by clergymen ‘who are interested in the support of the present establishment, and whose minds may therefore be supposed to be biased in favour of it’. In short, the minister had been misled by his ‘education and connections’. ((Joseph Priestley, A letter to the Right Honourable William Pitt (2nd edn, London, 1787), p. 2.)) It would not take much for contemporaries to link this criticism to Pitt’s former tutor. This 1787 debate saw the reprinting of Bishop Sherlock’s arguments against a repeal of the Corporation and Test Acts (1718), with a dedication to Pitt. ((Bishop Sherlock’s arguments against a repeal of the Corporation and Test Acts (1st pub., 1718; this edn, London, 1787), pp. iii–iv.)) Pretyman’s role in this affair was possibly of a double significance. The guiding force behind this reprint was discussed by two historians. F. C. Mather believed that the Oxford high churchman George Horne managed the affair while J. C. D. Clark stated that it was ‘possible that Pretyman was responsible for its publication’. ((Mather, High church prophet, p. 67; J. C. D. Clark, English society 1688–1832 (Cambridge, 1985), p. 341n.)) Whatever the truth of this, Pretyman was seen as having played a major role in dashing the dissenters’ hopes. Theophilus Lindsey complained to William Tayleur on 2 March 1787, of Pitt’s being ‘at first rather inclined’ to support repeal, but having then changed his mind. The reason for the change of heart was that ‘Bp Prettyman, I am well assured, one day read over with him the republication of Sherlock’s in favour of the Corporation and Test Acts’ which ‘are said to have swayed not only the Minister, but all his young friends as they are called’. ((Letters of Theophilus Lindsey, ed. H. McLachlan (London, 1920), p. 64. See, e.g., Bishop Sherlock’s arguments, pp. 22, 30–6.)) The actual influence on the minister is impossible to ascertain, but what mattered to individuals such as Lindsey was the perception of Pretyman as the agent of orthodoxy. ((See also John Rylands University Library, Lindsey Letters, iii: Theophilus Lindsey to William Tayleur, 16 July 1791.)) This reputation was not misplaced and will be shown in Pretyman’s actions over Trinity and Queens’ Colleges, while his attitude to Evangelical christianity will also be seen at play in his patronage relationship with Isaac Milner and William Wilberforce.

Pretyman and Trinity College, Cambridge

The mastership of Trinity College was one of five crown appointments in the university in this period. ((The others being the regius professorships of divinity, civil law, physic and modern history. The crown’s patronage in the gift of the king included the bishoprics, deaneries, some cathedral stalls (such as the three residentiaryships of St Paul’s), the university posts and parochial livings valued at over £20 in the King’s Book of 1535. However, it should be mentioned that the majority of the crown’s parochial livings were in the gift of the lord chancellor. See Thomas Bateman, Royal ecclesiastical gazeteer (London, 1791) and The correspondence of King George III from 1760 to 1783, ed. Sir John Fortescue (6 vols, London, 1927–8), I, 33–4 for a full breakdown. The percentage of parochial livings in the gift of the crown in 1742 has been estimated at 9.6. See D. R. Hirschberg, ‘The government and church patronage in England 1660–1760’, Journal of British Studies, XX (1980), 111–13.)) As with other ecclesiastical appointments in the gift of the King, Pitt and Pretyman were often given a free rein in its disposal, and George III rarely intervened in the crown’s lower church patronage. It has been argued that the king’s illness of 1788–9 diminished his aptitude for interference, and politically, the king knew that a termination of Pitt’s first ministry would likely result in the hated Charles James Fox taking power. The king was capable of decisive interference when necessary, as in the case of insisting on Henry William Majendie’s appointment as a residentiary of St Paul’s in 1797. ((See BL, Add. MS 35405, fo. 286, 26 Nov. 1797. Majendie had been tutor to the King’s third son.)) However, it is to Pretyman that any historian of the late Hanoverian Church should turn in order to understand the mechanisms which underlay the appointment of clergy to the crown’s preferments. Trinity was an early and significant opportunity for Pretyman to use his influence as Pitt’s ecclesiastical adviser.

The death of William Digby, dean of Durham, in September 1788 not only involved the necessity of filling the vacant deanery but also encompassed the mastership of Trinity College, Cambridge. Pitt lost no time in writing to his bishop:

I have written to the King, proposing to give it to the Bishop of Peterborough, which He will of course agree to. – A decision must therefore be taken respecting Trinity College – Pray let me know what you think will be best. – [William] Preston seems out of the Question unless the Bishop of Peterborough keeps Trinity till there is some Vacancy on the Bench. ((ESRO, HA119 T108/42, [Sept. 1788]. Preston, a Trinity man, was bishop of Killala (1784) and subsequently of Ferns (1787); he died Apr. 1789.))

George III did accept Pitt’s recommendation and John Hinchliffe, bishop of Peterborough and master of Trinity, who had already been offered and refused the deanery of St Paul’s, received a coveted piece of crown preferment. The bishop’s promotion had been eagerly sought by his patron, the third duke of Grafton. In November 1786 the duke wrote to Pitt soliciting the see of London for Hinchliffe, in case of a vacancy, adding that the bishop’s mastership ‘would be vacated’. ((TNA, PRO 30/8/139, fo. 177: 28 Nov. 1786.)) The duke wrote further in November 1787, on hearing of the death of Robert Lowth, bishop of London, to request this bishopric once more for his client. ((See TNA, PRO 30/8/139, fo. 187: 4 Nov. 1787.)) This too failed and Grafton’s next letter did not hide his disappointment, while he told the minister that ‘To be disengaged from the Mastership of Trinity is more the Bishop’s wish, than the translation from his present See.’ ((TNA, PRO 30/8/139, fo. 191: 30 Apr. 1788.)) Hinchliffe himself had also told the minister of his willingness to give up Trinity. ((See TNA, PRO 30/8/145, fo. 87: 23 Jan. 1788. However, the bishop had also sought a translation to the bishopric of Worcester.))

A prominent latitudinarian, Hinchliffe had been raised to the bench by the duke of Grafton in 1769, and was a man whose theology and political opinions were not favoured by George III. ((See, e.g., Ditchfield, George III, p. 93.)) In a sermon to the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in February 1776, the bishop of Peterborough had told his listeners of his hopes for the kind of religion which should be preached by the missionaries. He gave them a latitudinarian manifesto: ‘Nor let it ever be objected to our national church, that we mean to inculcate a narrow spirit of forms and ceremonies, in preference to the more essential substance of our holy religion.’ ((John Hinchliffe, A sermon preached before the Incorporated Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts; at their anniversary meeting in the parish church of St Mary-le-Bow on Friday February 16 1776 (London, 1776), p. 15.)) Hinchliffe’s religious outlook had also been allied to opposition to the policies of the king and government of Lord North, most notably over the conduct of the American War – opposition which he vocally expressed in the House of Lords. Bearing in mind that his theological and political positions would not have endeared the bishop of Peterborough to his monarch, the true reasons behind such preferment were not altruistic and explain why Pitt knew he could take the king’s acquiescence as read.

What emerged was a double strategy; the first involved taking the opportunity to remove Hinchliffe from Trinity College, Cambridge, where he had been master since 1768. Trinity was seen by the 1780s as in need of new direction and reform, with the bishop seen as a hindrance, as he was regarded as having neglected college business through his political activities. ((Gascoigne, Cambridge, p. 224.)) Hinchliffe’s willingness to relinquish this appointment was a godsend. George III’s hopes for Trinity, through the removal of Hinchliffe, were clear from his reply to Pitt’s request on 20 September 1788:

It is impossible to propose an Arrangement more proper on the Death of the late worthy Dean of Durham, than the offering it to the Bishop of Peterborough, and I trust Mr Pitt’s real love for Cambridge will make him recommend for Head of Trinity the person who is likely to enforce discipline and Learning. ((TNA, PRO 30/8/103, fo. 308.))

The other ideas behind the appointment were political and practical. As Pitt explained to George III, the bishop’s patron, the duke of Grafton would find the arrangement ‘in the highest degree gratifying’ and would also ‘be the means of preventing any application for his farther advancement on the Bench’. ((The later correspondence of George III, ed. A. Aspinall (5 vols, Cambridge, 1962–70), I, 395: 20 Sept. 1788.)) As has been seen, Grafton had been keen for his episcopal client to receive some mark of preferment. Pitt’s fellow MP for Cambridge University, the earl of Euston, was Grafton’s heir and a political supporter. More significantly, Pitt wanted to encourage Grafton, a former first minister, to take up a post within government. He had offered him a place in 1783 and in 1788. He obviously still hoped to entice the duke to accept, as he would invite him into the cabinet again in 1790. Hinchliffe’s appointment would be seen as honouring his patron, while also ensuring that the bishop of Peterborough would not receive a translation. At least this way, Pitt could remove any chance of offending Grafton or Euston – a clever stroke of realpolitik.

This left the problem of the disposal of Trinity College. One candidate was Richard Watson, the son of a Westmorland clergyman, who had been educated at Trinity and had risen to become regius professor of divinity at Cambridge and bishop of Llandaff. ((Regius professor since 1771.)) Watson’s reputation was well known to the political world, from the king downwards. In the posthumous Anecdotes (1818) Watson recounted that George III believed the rumours ‘of my being a favourer of republican principles’. ((See [Richard Watson], Anecdotes of the life of Richard Watson, bishop of Llandaff (2 vols, London, 1818), I, 313–14. The bishop refuted such accusations, see Richard Watson, A charge delivered to the clergy of the diocese of Landaff, June 1791 (London, 1792), p. 5n.)) Watson, like Hinchliffe, was a prominent latitudinarian. Writing in his anonymous persona as A christian whig, he asserted that the Church’s Thirty-Nine Articles ‘no longer’ influenced the clergy ‘either in their Belief or Composition, farther than each Individual finds them conformable to his own Interpretation of Scripture’. Watson further acknowledged ‘no Criterion of Orthodoxy but Scripture’. (([Richard Watson], A letter to the honourable house of commons, respecting the petition for relief in the matter of subscription (London, 1772), pp. 20, 33.)) He also openly advocated full toleration for dissenters. For example, in a sermon of 1776, he argued that ‘the time, however, may come when the wisdom of government may grant full relief’ to the dissenters as a reward for their ‘loyalty and zeal for the protestant succession’. ((Richard Watson, A sermon preached before the University of Cambridge on October 25 1776, being the anniversary of his majesty’s accession to the throne (Cambridge, 1776), p. 13.)) He was also prepared to go further and in a Charge of 1791 argued that when ‘Unitarians and Trinitarians … Churchmen and Dissenters speak ill, and think worse of each other’ they miss ‘the main points in which they all agree’. ((Richard Watson, A charge delivered to the clergy of the diocese of Landaff, June, 1791 (London, 1792), p. 16.)) The comment on Unitarians was especially surprising, when Joseph Priestley’s beliefs were openly ridiculed by high-church Anglicans. ((See [George Horne], A letter to the Reverend Doctor Priestley. By an undergraduate (Oxford, 1787).))

Promoted to the see of Llandaff in 1782, Watson had shown his independent line by voting in favour of the repeal of the Test and Corporation Acts in 1787. He had come forward and wrote to Pitt, on 9 February 1788, expressing a desire to secure preferment sufficient to allow him to resign his regius professorship. Stressing his regard for Pitt, he further assured the minister ‘that I have never been an Enemy to Mr Pitt either in his private or public capacity, tho’ I have had occasion on some political points to differ in Opinion from him’. ((TNA, PRO 30/7/3, fo. 149.)) Pitt obviously took this letter into consideration and sent a remarkable letter to Pretyman on 25 September 1788 with regard to the mastership:

It has struck me, in considering this Thing over, whether it would be risking too much to give it to the Bishop of Landaff. We think exactly alike about Him; but if there was a probability of his being secured by it, He seems in some respects fit for the Situation and a Bishop is always something gained – At all Events I am clear I should if possible take a Trinity Man. ((ESRO, HA119 T108/42.))

Watson would have been a risk, but the bishop was undoubtedly a man of great talents and would be a welcome addition to Pitt’s supporters, and both minister and bishop clearly regarded him as a potential master of Trinity. The king had made it clear to Pitt the kind of person he wanted to see as master. Watson was far from those royal ambitions. Indeed, Watson’s Anecdotes suggested that, although Pitt was happy to place Watson in the mastership, it was George III who had vetoed these discussions. Watson’s close friend, the duke of Grafton, told him in 1807 that Pitt had seen Watson as a suitable master of Trinity ‘but said that a certain person would not hear of it’. Watson remarked of the King, with some bitterness, ‘I ought to say with St Paul, Thou shalt not speak evil of the ruler of thy people.’ (([Watson], Anecdotes, II, 329–30. See also Timothy Brain, ‘Some aspects of the life and works of Richard Watson, bishop of Llandaff (unpublished PhD dissertation, University of Wales, Aberystwyth, 1982) p. 264.))

Thus, church opinions could be put to one side as Pitt and Pretyman were prepared to put Watson in Hinchliffe’s place – clearly a rigid attitude did not always exist towards latitudinarianism at the end of the eighteenth century. This flexibility and willingness to think strategically was especially remarkable when the importance of securing Trinity to the administration can be seen in a very candid letter from Pretyman to William Wilberforce of 2 September 1788. Wilberforce had put forward the claims of his client, Isaac Milner, to the mastership. The letter was dated before the discussion on Watson quoted above, which would explain the doubts mentioned over finding a Trinity man. Significantly, the letter also reveals the degree of Pitt’s control over the university at this time:

I am clear that the College would be better pleased if a person belonging to their own Society were made Master, & it is at present Pitt’s object to find such a person who is suited to the situation. Whether he will succeed in his Endeavors I much doubt. He is aware that it is a matter of great Importance to his own Interest. I agree with you that he would have the compleat command of the University if he had a Master of Trinity who was attached to him, & who had that degree of Influence which every Head ought to have in his own college.

Pretyman agreed that Milner was ‘the only person at Cambridge whom he could bring forward with credit … so barren is the University of literary merit, or indeed of any Character eminently good’. The only serious bar to this promotion was that Milner was not from Trinity, although Pretyman added that ‘if a foreigner must be taken Milner’s appointment would I should think be more satisfactory than that of any other person.’ ((Bodleian Library, Wilberforce MS d.13, fos 350–1.))

Cambridge had come a long way since its heyday of latitudinarianism in the earlier Hanoverian period. However, there had still been a hope that Watson would make an ideal master of Trinity and bring this prelate into the heart of government plans for Cambridge. It could of course be reasoned that Pitt’s letter to Pretyman was an attempt to silence Watson and ensure his support, and that the needs of Trinity were to be subordinated to political considerations. Watson’s independence was well known and it is likely that both Pitt and Pretyman realized that his views could never be fully curbed, and yet he was still regarded as a serious contender. It was natural that they hoped that the bishop would become a regular supporter through this preferment, but such an outcome was by no means guaranteed. Further, a cynical interpretation does not stand up in the light of Pretyman’s letter to Wilberforce, which showed the importance of Trinity to Pitt. Watson, a man of great talent, intimately connected to the college, would have been a remarkable choice for Trinity.

Watson’s latitudinarianism was becoming a rarity on the bench; indeed, after Hinchliffe’s death in 1794, Watson was left as ‘the sole surviving Latitudinarian’ amongst the bishops. ((Mather, High church prophet, p. 212.)) Watson himself remarked that he ‘possessed not the talents of adulation, intrigue, and versatility of principle by which laymen as well as churchmen, usually in courts ascend the ladder of ambition’. (([Watson], Anecdotes, II, 278–9.)) Perhaps he had a point. Watson would publish works supportive of government, but these never led to further promotion. ((See Richard Watson, A defence of revealed religion, in two sermons preached in the cathedral church of Landaff; and a charge delivered to the clergy of that diocese in June, 1795 (2nd edn, London, 1797).)) The most notable of these is his Address to the people of Great Britain (1798). In this book, the bishop of Llandaff came out in support of the war but then propagated arguments that the king or Pitt most likely did not want to hear by defending the dissenters and those who advocated parliamentary reform, while downplaying the dangers from those who believed in republicanism. ((See Richard Watson, An address to the people of Great Britain (London, 1798), pp. 11, 16–19.)) In the end, Watson’s latitudinarianism and his independent political line had apparently made him ineligible to receive patronage in the eyes of the king, and he died as bishop of Llandaff, with no further preferment, in 1816.

The man chosen to be master of Trinity was Thomas Postlethwaite, a member of that society. Samuel Ryder Weston, a Cambridge client of Philip Yorke, MP for Cambridgeshire, wrote to his patron in June 1789, stating that ‘Mr Pitt could not have established his interest in Trinity so effectually as by giving them Postlethwayte for their Master.’ ((BL, Add. MS 35405, fo. 172: 16 Jun. 1789.)) On Postlethwaite’s death in 1798 a new master was appointed, who was certainly a proven defender of church and state, William Lort Mansel. Mansel had played his own part in combating radicalism in the shape of the Foxite whig, Francis Russell, fifth duke of Bedford. When the duke addressed a political meeting in Cambridge in the 1790s, Mansel made a powerful speech against him. An eyewitness, Clement Carlyon, reported that Pitt ‘thought the affair of so much consequence, that Dr Mansell, the triumphant orator, was soon after made Master of Trinity College.’ ((Clement Carlyon, Early years and late reflections (4 vols, London, 1856), I, 51. See Gascoigne, Cambridge, p. 219. Mansel was later bishop of Bristol (1808).)) Indeed, in soliciting preferment in April 1797, Mansel had informed the minister of his work as a magistrate and his loyalty as a staunch Pittite. ((See TNA, PRO 30/8/155, fo. 242: 11 Apr. 1797.)) Mansel was appointed on 25 May 1798. Pitt and Pretyman had obviously discussed the reception of the news, as the minister wrote to the bishop on 30 May, saying ‘I am very glad Indeed of the Account you send me from Trinity.’ ((ESRO, HA119 T108/42.)) The college had most assuredly been secured to Pitt and Pretyman.

George Pretyman and Isaac Milner

Another important recipient of Pitt and Pretyman’s largesse was Isaac Milner, mentioned above in the context of the mastership of Trinity. Milner had been forced to leave school at ten and had become apprenticed as a weaver. Helped by his brother, Milner had gone to Queens’ College, Cambridge, and had become the first Jacksonian professor of natural philosophy in 1782. ((Jacksonian professor until 1792.)) In terms of this paper, his importance was as a leading evangelical. Milner argued that Britain needed ‘The revival of pure Christianity which took place at the Reformation’, otherwise ‘we shall, in no great length of time, be found to have let go the substance, and retained only the shadow of Protestantism.’ ((Sermon of 30 Jan. 1807 from Isaac Milner, Sermons (2 vols, London, 1820), I, 22–3.)) Milner argued passionately for his belief in the doctrine of justification by faith. In praising the beliefs of his brother, in his Practical sermons by the late Rev. Joseph Milner (1801) he advocated this doctrine of justification and lavished his approbation for the Church’s eleventh article ‘Of justification of men’. He wrote approvingly of his brother’s belief that ‘in justifying faith, the true believer received Christ in all his offices, as King, Priest, and Prophet’. Through this doctrine, a believer ‘committed himself wholly’ to Christ ‘and depended entirely on him, not only for pardon, peace of conscience and eternal life, but also for deliverance from the dominion of sin, and for all holy affections, – in one word, for a NEW HEART.’ As for Good Works, Milner noted his brother was ‘pointedly distinct and guarded…in assigning to the fruits their right place in the Christian scheme; – that is, in shewing that they are the evidence of a vital union with the Saviour; not the ground of acceptance before God.’ Milner also criticized opponents, dismissing their ‘stale, hackneyed objections of preaching Faith only, and of telling men that, if they did but believe, they might continue to be as wicked as they pleased, and still go to Heaven, were so unfounded in truth and had been so often answered and confuted’. ((Isaac Milner, Practical Sermons … to which is prefixed an account of the life and character of the author (1st pub., 1801; Cambridge, 1804), pp. xxx. See Tomline, Elements, pp. 170–2, for a propagation of this view.))

Milner’s college, under the presidency of the latitudinarian Robert Plumptre, had gained a reputation for heterodoxy. ((Mary Milner, The life of Isaac Milner, DD, FRS (London, 1842), p. 4.)) Milner was ‘not only a committed evangelical but a stern opponent of the kind of anti-trinitarian heterodoxy which had flourished in the university in the preceding decades’. ((Ditchfield, Evangelical revival, p. 107.)) Barbara Melaas-Swanson has argued that Milner was the college’s obvious choice for president. ((Barbara Melaas-Swanson, ‘The life and thought of the very reverend Dr Isaac Milner and his contribution to the Evangelical revival in England’, unpublished PhD dissertation, University of Durham, 1993, p. 87.)) This post would be the stepping-stone to crown patronage. He was elected unopposed as president of Queens’ in succession to Plumptre, who died in October 1788. ((See Peter Searby, A history of the University of Cambridge. Volume III: 1750–1870 (Cambridge, 1997), p. 326; John Twigg, A history of Queens’ College, Cambridge 1448–1986 (Woodbridge, 1987), p. 159; Melaas-Swanson, ‘Isaac Milner’, p. 87.))

Isaac Milner had played a leading role in the conversion of William Wilberforce to evangelicalism, during two trips on the continent, notably on their second journey of 1785. ((I am most grateful to Gareth Atkins for his insights into Wilberforce and the Evangelical clergy.)) Wilberforce, as Milner’s patron, was keen to secure some preferment, as seen in Pretyman’s letter regarding Trinity in September 1788. Wilberforce continued to press his suit, for example he noted in his diary for 10 June 1790: ‘Travelled on all day – calling at Bishop of Lincoln’s – talked about Milner.’ ((Robert Isaac Wilberforce and Samuel Wilberforce, The life of William Wilberforce (5 vols, London, 1838), I, 271)) The deanery of Carlisle was soon secured in late 1791, through the good offices of Pretyman, for which Milner sent his effusive thanks to the bishop on 19 November. ((See Cambridge University Library [CUL], Pitt Papers, MS 6958 (5), fo. 1016. See also Milner, Isaac Milner, p. 71.)) Wilberforce, an intimate friend of Pitt and staunch political loyalist, would expect to see his clients rewarded with patronage. However, this affair is of far more significance than a political ally receiving government patronage.

Melaas-Swanson argued that Milner helped secure this deanery by writing to Pitt in late 1791 downplaying his evangelicalism. She saw this subterfuge as vital, in order to overcome Pretyman’s bias. ((See Melaas-Swanson, ‘Isaac Milner’, p. 124.)) Milner’s letter to Pitt of 7 November 1791 certainly made no mention of his theological opinions. Milner expressed his wish to have time to produce a major philosophical work and appealed to the minister’s ‘regard for science’ which he remembered ‘to have been told long ago by one, who had a good opportunity of knowing [i.e. Pretyman], that at a very early period of life, he discovered a strong taste for Algebra & some other abstruse parts of science.’ ((TNA, PRO 30/8/158, fo. 197.))

However, the desire to encourage Milner’s work in rooting out those who held unorthodox religious or dangerous political opinions would undoubtedly be of great importance. As with Watson, Milner’s religious beliefs would surely have been well known to George Pretyman. As John Twigg argued, in 1786 Milner ‘nailed his colours to the [evangelical] mast … when he kept his act for the degree of BD on the theme of justification by faith alone.’ ((Twigg, Queens’ College, p. 173. See also Searby, University of Cambridge, p. 326.)) It is very likely that the Cambridge educated Pretyman, a personal friend of Milner’s, would be aware of such theological opinions. Melaas-Swanson is quite possibly performing an injustice to Pretyman, a man whose correspondence indicated that he was well informed.

Thus it is possible to see Pretyman ignoring Milner’s Calvinism in order to ensure that the work of making Queens’ favourable to the government in terms of its religious and political outlook could be achieved. Indeed, as early as September 1788, this fact was recognised by Pretyman in the letter to Wilberforce quoted above, which noted the importance of securing Trinity for the administration. As this was written when Robert Plumptre was still alive, it supports Melaas-Swanson’s argument that Milner was the expected successor, and suggests that Pretyman was aware of the intricacies of the politics of this college. If Pretyman had doubts of securing Queens’, a major centre of old Cambridge latitudinarianism, to the cause of political and theological orthodoxy, he would surely have mentioned this in his letter. Further, although Plumptre died on 29 October 1788, his demise was not a surprise, as Henry Gunning noted that in 1787, Plumptre’s death ‘was daily expected’. ((Gunning, Reminiscences, I, 261.)) Milner’s expected succession also gives another reason why Pitt and Pretyman really wanted to give the mastership of Trinity to a member of that college. Although Pretyman lavished praise on Milner (and such language would be expected in a letter to his patron, an intimate of Pitt), the bishop surely had his eye on him as a future president of Queens’. If the deanery was meant to be an encouragement, Milner did not disappoint.

It should also be noted that the link of personal friendship between Pretyman and Milner cannot be ignored as a factor in the promotion. This is demonstrated vividly in Milner’s letter to the bishop of 7 November 1791. It makes clear that Milner believed he had been recommended to the deanery solely for reasons of friendship – the two men had been well known to each other as members of Cambridge’s Hyson Club (as both had been ex-wranglers). In this letter, Milner also portrayed himself as totally dependent on Pretyman’s good will and he hoped that the bishop would ‘throw in a word concerning the particularity of my case, the feelings of an Invalid & the pressure of such circumstances’. ((CUL, MS 6958 (5), fo. 1017.)) Thus ties of friendship did play their part, but it must be the case that this preferment was primarily thought of as encouragement in the work of reforming Queens’ College. Pitt and Pretyman were aware of the need of securing Cambridge and neither the first minister nor his adviser would necessarily have spelt out their desires to Milner so crudely.

Milner soon set about his work of reforming Queens’. ((See Melaas-Swanson, ‘Isaac Milner’, p. 90.)) Indeed, in a short while, Milner would transform Queens’ College into ‘an Evangelical stronghold’ by filling tutorships with his own candidates. ((Searby, University of Cambridge, p. 326.)) He had a further very important opportunity to demonstrate his use to the government in the university over the expulsion of William Frend. Frend had been educated at Christ’s College but had moved to Jesus where he had become a college tutor. In 1787 he had converted to unitarianism and the following year proclaimed his beliefs in his Thoughts on subscription to religious tests (1788) disparaging Trinitarian doctrine and arguing that ‘Jesus Christ was a man like ourselves, sin only excepted, through whom by the free gift of God, those, who are obedient to his precepts, shall obtain everlasting life. ((William Frend, Thoughts on subscription to religious tests, particularly that required by the University of Cambridge of candidates for the degree of Bachelor of Arts, In a letter to the Rev. H. W. Coulthurst BD fellow of Sidney College and member of the Caput Senatus (St Ives, 1788), p. 26.)) This work resulted in Frend being removed from his tutorship. After briefly travelling on the continent, he returned to Cambridge where his troubles started in earnest. ((See Arthur Gray and Frederick Brittain, A history of Jesus College, Cambridge (rev. edn, Cambridge, 1988), pp. 119–37.)) In February 1793 he published a pamphlet Peace and union in which he advocated political reforms, the abolition of the Test and Corporation Acts and urged both the opponents and supporters of the status quo in Britain to come together, ‘firmly united to preserve an improving constitution, and to promote the publick happiness’. ((William Frend, Peace and union recommended to the associated bodies of republicans and anti-republicans (2nd edn, Cambridge, 1793), p. 61.)) However, although he was far from advocating a repeat of the events in France for Britain, in the political atmosphere of the 1790s, this pamphlet, published shortly after the start of the French Terror and the execution of Louis XVI, was not likely to escape serious criticism. ((See Frend, Peace and union, pp. 5–6.)) Indeed, Frend himself gave plenty of ammunition to his opponents. He denigrated the Church of England’s liturgy as ‘derived from the mass book of Rome, over which if it has in some respects a manifest superiority, “it is very far from that standard of purity in its arrangement, language, or doctrine, which is required from such compositions.”’ ((Frend, Peace and union, p. 41.)) Frend also criticized the effects of hostilities with France on the poor and refused to condemn the execution of Louis XVI (referred to as ‘Louis Capet’), arguing that ‘It is, in short, no business of ours, and if all the crowned heads on the continent are taken off, it is no business of ours.’ ((Frend, Peace and union, p. 64.))

James Yorke, bishop of Ely, the visitor of Jesus College, read the pamphlet and believed it contained ‘obnoxious principles’. However, he believed that the question of what to do with Frend required ‘grave & regular consideration’. ((Jesus College, Cambridge, Archives, Master & Fellows 2, 1775–1850: J. Yorke to William Mathew, John Plampin, Thomas Bayley, and Thomas Castley, 12 Mar. 1793.)) On 3 April 1793 the master and a majority of the fellows decided against Frend and judged that his pamphlet contained passages which ‘have a tendency to prejudice the clergy in the eyes of the laity’ and ‘a tendency to degrade the publick esteem [of] the doctrines and rites of the Church of England’. In addition the pamphlet was judged to disturb society and damage the interests of the college. ((Jesus College, Cambridge, Archives, Master & Fellows 2: judgment contained in Frend’s appeal to the bishop of Ely, 20 Apr. 1793.))

Isaac Milner, serving that year as vice-chancellor, did not stand idly by and he was prepared to play a full part in the downfall of Frend. On 3 May 1793 Frend was summoned to the vice-chancellor’s court. He was condemned for his pamphlet and on 30 May, Frend was further called upon in the vice-chancellor’s court to retract. On his refusal Milner, with the majority of the college heads, banished Frend from the university. In his judgment, Milner took great pains to assert that his actions were of great importance to the university and nation and stressed that Frend was ‘well qualified to make impressions upon the unsuspecting minds of youth’. ((Milner, Isaac Milner, p. 90)) Milner then went further and proclaimed that his services had preserved the students at Cambridge from corrupting influences which could damage ‘the future support and ornaments both of the civil and ecclesiastical establishments of England’. ((Milner, Isaac Milner, p. 97. Frend would later attack Pretyman – see William Frend, Animadversions on the elements of christian theology by the Reverend George Pretyman DD, FRS, lord bishop of Lincoln; in a series of letters addressed to his lordship (London, 1800).))

Arthur Gray and Frederick Brittain detected a note of cynicism in Milner’s actions, arguing that it ‘was pretty well understood that he desired to stand well with the Ministry, and after the trial took pains to impress on Pitt that the expulsion of Frend had caused the downfall of Jacobinism in the University’. ((Gray and Brittain, Jesus College, p. 129.)) This cynicism has been echoed by Peter Searby who noted that Milner’s ambition for Trinity ‘made him keen to show his loyalism’. ((Searby, University of Cambridge, p. 417. The subject of Trinity College had appeared in Milner’s correspondence as early as 1788. See Bodl., MS\Wilberforce c. 47, fo. 116: Milner to Wilberforce, 6 Dec. 1788.)) However, if this was the reasons behind Milner’s actions, it came to nothing as no further church appointment was given to him, and he would never be made master of Trinity.

In June 1796, Wilberforce was writing to Pretyman attempting to secure a residentiaryship of St Paul’s for Milner, as his health was suffering from his journeys to Carlisle. Milner had informed his patron that the bishop of Lincoln had expressed himself to him ‘in very friendly Terms’ which thus confirmed Wilberforce’s ‘intention of throwing out these Ideas to your Lordship & begging any information counsel or assistance with which you can furnish me’. ((CKS, U1590 S5 04/12: 30 Jun. 1796.)) Milner though had to be content with being elected Lucasian professor of mathematics in 1798. Pitt and Pretyman may have shared a genuine belief that Milner’s good work had been already amply rewarded with the deanery of Carlisle – although the most likely explanation is that Milner’s brand of evangelicalism barred his chances of higher promotion.

Wilberforce and Pitt had their political differences over the French war in the 1790s, although they remained friends. ((See Wilberforce and Wilberforce, Life of Wilberforce, II, 71.)) Wilberforce believed he still had influence, and in 1797 felt free to give Pitt advice on church patronage. On 1 August he advised Pitt, on the verge of making an episcopal nomination, that he should ‘consider well whom you appoint’. Wilberforce further added his belief that the minister should appoint a bishop who could adequately oversee the clergy, arguing that if they ‘would be brought to know & to do their Duty, both the Religion & civil state of this Country would receive a principle of new life’. ((TNA, PRO 30/8/189, fo. 175: 1 Aug. 1797. The letter concerned the vacancy at Chichester.)) This interference could be seen as an unwelcome interference by the bishop of Lincoln. However, the appointment of William Lort Mansel to Trinity in 1798 was significant. Mansel’s new post was not to Wilberforce’s taste and he complained to one of his correspondents in May 1798. The letter shows the general disillusionment of the Evangelical Wilberforce with the distribution of ecclesiastical preferment – and a clear moment of annoyance at Pitt and Pretyman. He wrote that Mansel’s appointment was ‘I must say, by no means such as I could approve.’ He further noted that ‘Various Circumstances & Considerations concur to render me less & less disposed to ask favours of Administn.’ ((Bodl., MS Wilberforce d. 15/2, fo. 220: Wilberforce to Dr Frewen, 16 May 1798.)) Wilberforce’s estrangement from Pretyman and others on the bench was illustrated by F. C. Mather, who noted that while he was researching his Practical view Wilberforce ‘admitted to a desire to conceal’ from Samuel Horsley, bishop of Rochester and dean of Westminster, the volumes he was using at Westminster. Additionally he asked Beilby Porteus, bishop of London, rather than Pretyman as dean of St Paul’s, for permission to use the cathedral library. Mather saw this as evidence of ‘the mistrust existing between Wilberforce and the High Church prelates over his writing the aggressively evangelical Practical View’. ((Mather, High church prophet, p. 236. The bishop of Rochester traditionally held the deanery of Westminster in commendam.)) Indeed, Wilberforce himself, writing in 1800, confided that until one meeting with Pitt, he ‘never till then knew how deep a prejudice his [Pitt’s] mind had conceived against the class of clergy to whom he knew me to be attached’. Wilberforce also wrote that ‘the prejudice arose out of the confidence he reposed in the Bishop of Lincoln’. ((Wilberforce and Wilberforce, Life of Wilberforce, II, 364. This is contained in a private paper concerning parliamentary proceedings against the itinerant preachers; Wilberforce viewed this as a threat to the toleration act, and saw Pretyman’s hand behind it (pp. 361, 363). See also Gunning, Reminiscences, II, 280.))

By 1799, he was still seeking preferment for Isaac Milner, but only if the dean of Carlisle had reasonable chances of a long life – friendship was not to be put before the needs of the faith. He wrote to Milner’s physician, William Hey, on 27 July 1799, knowing that the dean had recently seen him. Wilberforce told Hey that he ‘had a Wish to try to remove him [Milner] to the Deanery of York from that of Carlisle’. However, he asked Hey if Milner was likely to live long enough to enjoy the deanery, as Wilberforce frankly acknowledged that he ‘might not be able to supply the next Vacancy’. If Milner were to die early in post ‘the Injury might be great to the Interest of Religion … from putting in a man whose Life in the Businesslike phrase, was worth only a few years purchase’. ((Bodl., MS Wilberforce d. 15/2, fo. 168.))

This letter showed that Wilberforce’s requests could still get a hearing from Pitt. ((See, e.g., CUL, MS 6958 (13), fos 2537, 2554 (26 Oct., 14 Dec. 1799).)) However, Milner was to receive no further preferment and died as dean of Carlisle and president of Queens’ in 1820. Milner himself was undoubtedly unaware of Wilberforce’s letter to Hey and only had a sense of bitterness towards Pitt, telling his patron in February 1806 that he believed that ‘the domineering spirit of Bishops &c &c … had faster hold of P’s mind than you had.’ ((Bodl., MS Wilberforce c. 47, fo. 142, 10 Feb. 1806.)) It would not take much to see in this comment a far from subtle criticism of Pretyman and reflected his own patron’s failure to sustain a successful connection with the bishop of Lincoln. Wilberforce’s attempt at interference over the disposal of Chichester in 1797, and his hostility to appointments of the calibre of Mansel would surely not have endeared him to the bishop of Lincoln. However, Wilberforce’s position amongst Evangelicals and his Practical view with its attacks on the established clergy and its views on ‘faith’ surely go a long way to explaining Pretyman’s wariness of Milner’s patron As Gunning wrote in 1854, Pitt maintained ‘a rooted dislike of what was called the “Evangelical Party”’ – a rooted dislike that was undoubtedly the work of his adviser, George Pretyman. ((Gunning, Reminiscences, I, 280.))

Peter Peckard and the deanery of Peterborough

We have seen two case studies intimately connected to the great theological issues of the late Hanoverian period. It is also important to see how Cambridge patronage was linked to Pitt’s political considerations as MP for the university. The clearest illustration of this is in the surprising appointment of a cleric well known for heterodoxy, Peter Peckard, master of Magdalene, to the deanery of Peterborough in 1792. In this instance, the appointment to a deanery had nothing to do with theology, as Peckard was a significant Pitt supporter at the university.

Peckard, the son of a cleric, had been educated at Corpus Christi College, Oxford. He had become master of Magdalene College, Cambridge, in 1781. He was a man who joined the unitarian Society for Promoting Knowledge of the Scriptures ((See Ditchfield, ‘Ecclesiastical policy under Lord North’, in Church of England, ed. Walsh, Haydon and Taylor, p. 231.)) and was described by John Gascoigne as ‘liberal to the point of heterodoxy’ in terms of religion. ((Gascoigne, Cambridge, p. 224; see pp. 222–4 on Peckard’s career at Cambridge.)) An anonymous 1776 work showed the depths of his religious radicalism. Perhaps one of the most contentious phrases was his hope that ‘An Athanasian, an Arian, a Socinian, a Lutheran, a Calvinist, an Arminian’, although separated by disagreement ‘in some particulars’, could ‘mutually advance toward each other’. This could be achieved by ‘disregarding that formal species of external uniformity the object of human impositions, the object of subscriptions’ – in other words the Church’s Thirty-Nine Articles. (([Peter Peckard], Subscription. Or historical extracts humbly inscribed to the right reverend the bishops. And, to the petitioners; shewing the impropriety of their petition (London, 1776), p. 181.))

Peckard’s name emerged in discussions between Pitt and Pretyman in February 1792. The two men were discussing the promotion of Charles Manners-Sutton, dean of Peterborough to the bishopric of Norwich, vacated by George Horne’s death the previous month. The bishop wrote to the Minister:

For the Deanery of Peterborough you have applications from Dr Peckard & Dr [Everard] Buckworth: the latter has considerable Interest in the City of Lincoln which has always [been] exerted in your favor, & has also a very large estate in the County; & moreover he is willing to give you for it a Prebend of Canterbury, which is, I believe of greater value than the Deanery. You best know whether you can afford to give such a piece of Preferment to Dr Peckard; if you cannot, I hope that you will oblige Dr Buckworth whom I know to be a very respectable man. ((CKS, U1590 S5 34: 5 Feb. 1792. Everard Buckworth, son of a lawyer, educated at Trinity Hall, Cambridge, LLD (1768), prebend of Lincoln (1773) and Canterbury (1775); died 3 Oct. 1792.))

Charles Manners-Sutton was indeed promoted to the see of Norwich, freeing up his post at Peterborough. The bishop’s caution over Peckard’s promotion was apparent – but despite these reservations this heterodox cleric would indeed be promoted to the deanery of Peterborough.

John Walsh argued that the deanery was ‘a surprising appointment for an elderly heretic’. He further stated that ‘Government prejudice against notorious liberals … was strong, and clerics of Peckard’s type were usually denied the richer prizes of Crown patronage.’ ((John Walsh and Ronald Hyam, Peter Peckard, liberal churchman and anti-slave trade campaigner (Oxford, 1998), p. 14.)) However, the motivation behind this appointment was to reward political loyalty. There was also no danger of Peckard’s theology causing harm to the university. Magdalene, which flourished under Peckard, was Cambridge’s ‘first major centre of evangelicalism’. ((Gascoigne, Cambridge, p. 224.)) Further, John Gascoigne argued that Peckard’s influence within the university and his college also ‘appears to have diminished’ in this period. ((Gascoigne, Cambridge, p. 223. Peckard had also been vice-chancellor of Cambridge in 1784.)) Walsh was somewhat kinder to the master of Magdalene, noting that his ‘Latitudinarianism fortunately proved broad enough to comprehend even Evangelical Moderate Calvinism.’ ((John Walsh, ‘The Magdalene Evangelicals’, Church Quarterly Review, CLIX (1958), 504.)) Indeed, Peckard and Fellows enjoyed a harmonious relationship.

An analysis of Peckard’s letters to Pitt in the Chatham papers reveals the history behind this promotion and explains why Pitt and Pretyman moved to give him a significant piece of crown patronage. In November 1787, Peckard had come forward seeking preferment from Pitt, stressing that he had ‘endeavour’d’ to serve the minister ‘from principle’. ((TNA, PRO 30/8/165, fo. 156: 12 Nov. 1787.)) He wrote again in June 1789 stressing his loyalty politically to Pitt, and this time asked the minister to approach Bishop Hinchliffe for a stall in Peterborough cathedral. He believed that Hinchliffe would be happy to accede, as he had recently received ‘magnificent preferment’ in the shape of the deanery of Durham, and would further be ready to acknowledge Peckard’s help to Lord Euston – heir to Hinchliffe’s patron, the duke of Grafton, at the last election. ((TNA, PRO 30/8/165, fo. 158: 9 June 1789.)) Peckard had stressed to Pitt his services as a political supporter in the university – he clearly felt that his potential influence as master of Magdalene entitled him to a mark of government approbation. He was to be proved correct in his assumption. Those clerics who were politically important would make sure these credentials were laid before Pitt. For example, Thomas Rennell, educated at King’s, and a future master of the Temple and dean of Winchester, was careful to preface a request for patronage with his willingness to support both Pitt and Lord Euston in the 1790 election contest at Cambridge University. ((See TNA, PRO 30/8/170, fo. 293: Rennell to Pitt, 11 Apr. 1790. He also used this letter to request the post of chaplain in ordinary to the king; Rennell was BA (1777), MA (Lit. Reg. 1779), DD (1794).))

Peckard’s requests were ignored – a clear breakdown in the Pitt and Pretyman partnership. When Pitt wrote to Peckard in 1790, requesting political support for the Cambridge University contest in the general election, Peckard responded by expressing his disappointment to the minister for not giving any reward for his past services. His letter of 16 March 1790 complained of his being ignored for preferment and told Pitt that ‘my situation prevents me from making any positive engagement’. ((TNA, PRO 30/8/165, fo. 160.)) The evidence for Peckard possessing some political clout at the university was confirmed by Pitt’s next action, as the minister moved quickly to resolve the situation, as a later letter from Peckard, dated September 1791, made clear. The minister had smoothed Peckard’s ruffled feathers and the master of Magdalene now took the opportunity to request the deanery of Peterborough, as he believed the present incumbent, Manners-Sutton, would soon be promoted. ((See TNA, PRO 30/8/165, fo. 164: 8 Sept. 1791)) It was in this context that Pretyman and Pitt discussed his candidacy. It should also be mentioned that Peckard was in his seventies, and, as John Walsh noted, his ‘tenure of the deanery turned out to be brief – as perhaps he and his patrons knew it would be.’ ((Walsh and Hyam, Peter Peckard, p. 14.)) Indeed, he died in December 1797.

Peckard could still be a thorn in the side of government. In February 1795, he would use a sermon at Peterborough cathedral to condemn the war with France and hope for a return to peace. ((See Peter Peckard, National crimes the cause of national punishments. A discourse deliver’d in the cathedral church of Peterborough on the fast-day, Feb: 25th 1795 (Peterborough, 1795).)) However, in a crucial respect he remained a loyal Pittite at the university. In November 1795 he wrote to Pitt warning him of a seditious pamphlet in circulation at the university attacking him as ‘a determined enemy to the Liberties of your Country’ and ‘no longer fit’ to be an MP for the university. Peckard did not know if Pitt would face opposition in the next election, but vowed that ‘I will serve you to the utmost of my power as much from affection as from gratitude.’ ((TNA, PRO 30/8/165, fo. 166: 27 Nov. 1795.)) Again, this phrase indicates that Peckard could wield influence at the university and, moreover, was an active supporter of the minister. It is hard to imagine that Pitt would have been so concerned to prefer Peckard had he not possessed influence which he actively engaged on the minister’s behalf. Peckard’s appointment had reinforced his sense of loyalty politically. Pitt and Pretyman had clearly calculated that promotion to the deanery at an advanced age could cause little harm to the chapter at Peterborough, while he was also only a titular head of his college – with Magdalene in the hands of evangelicals, there was no way in which Peckard could alter the theological complexion of the college.


Church patronage was part of the currency of influence in the Hanoverian period. The case studies discussed in this paper have revealed the complexities faced by those who had a hand in distributing such patronage as well as giving us an insight into the national theological and political trends of the late-eighteenth century. The need to appoint a master of Trinity College in 1788 had arisen through the promotion of the latitudinarian John Hinchliffe, bishop of Peterborough. On the surface, this would seem an unusual choice, as Hinchliffe’s religion and politics would not have endeared him to the king or to Pitt’s adviser, George Pretyman. However, the bestowal of the deanery of Durham, a rich piece of crown preferment, was designed to instigate reform at Trinity – as an influential college in Cambridge, one of the seminaries for the clergy, such reform would be of future benefit to church and state. The name of Richard Watson as a candidate for Trinity would seem rather surprising in this context. The importance of securing this college to administration had been spelt out by Pretyman to William Wilberforce. The fact that Pitt and Pretyman still contemplated Watson as a suitable master suggests that latitudinarians could still be considered for preferment. Watson’s independence was well known and perhaps it was hoped he would become a supporter. However, both were too wise simply to believe that Watson would jettison his views – he was genuinely seen as a suitable candidate for the mastership, as a man who could bring more rigour to a college seen in need of reform.

Isaac Milner’s theology was put to one side in the cause of rooting out heterodoxy at Queens’. As an encouragement, he received the deanery of Carlisle. Such encouragement was an inspired decision from the administration’s point of view as Milner did not disappoint by reforming Queens’ or showing his determination in expelling William Frend. However, for all of his work in promoting orthodoxy, Milner did not achieve more in the Church. His brand of evangelical christianity undoubtedly put paid to that and he, like Watson, had to languish in a relatively poor crown appointment – in his case, the deanery of Carlisle. This also reflected the failure of Milner’s patron, William Wilberforce, to influence either Pitt or Pretyman into giving his client further promotion.

Richard Watson’s theological and political views cost him the chance to achieve far greater things in the Church than a poor Welsh bishopric, a see normally seen as a stepping stone to a richer translation. It was an unfortunate end to the career of the last latitudinarian prelate. The increasing religious controversy over Calvinism, which eclipsed the earlier battle between orthodoxy and latitudinarianism, put paid to the chances of further preferment for the loyalist Isaac Milner. Pretyman would undoubtedly not wish to see such a prominent evangelical clergyman promoted too far in the Church, although Milner’s failure to achieve more can also be seen as a possible reflection on Wilberforce as much as on Milner. Wilberforce’s espousal of evangelicalism, his attack on the standards of the clergy and his attempts to give advice on church patronage would surely not have pleased Pretyman. Thus, a minor deanery was undoubtedly the most that Pretyman was prepared to give as a reward.

Pitt and Pretyman had successfully consolidated their interests at Cambridge in this period. At Trinity, the removal of Hinchliffe and the appointments of Posthlethwaite and, more significantly, Mansel brought the college within Pitt’s influence. With Milner, Pitt and Pretyman had encouraged him to go on the offensive against heterodoxy at Queens’ and in the university generally, which further strengthened their interests. The promotion of Peter Peckard, though, would seem to buck this orthodox theological trend. A man who held well-known radical theological views would not normally have expected to receive crown patronage in the era of Pitt and Pretyman. Peckard’s use was as a political supporter in the university. His promotion could not harm the Church. Although the appointment may seem on the surface like an exercise in cynical political jobbery, it is unthinkable that Pitt, and most especially Pretyman, would have placed Peckard in a situation where he could cause any damage to the Church. His age alone would prevent him from influencing the chapter at Peterborough, while his college was already a stronghold of orthodoxy. The use of a crown appointment to reward one of Pitt’s political loyalists was expected in the patronage system and would undoubtedly encourage others to maintain their support.

Reider Payne

Reider Payne obtained a PhD from University College London for his work on Anglican patronage networks. In 2010 his Ecclesiastical Patronage in England, 1770-1801: A Study of Four Family and Political Networks was published by the Edwin Mellon press.