Tuesday 1 November 2016

A Glimpse of Early Eighteenth-Century Newfoundland: Celebrating GEMMS Sermon # 5555

This blog post marks a significant milestone for the GEMMS research project. With well over five thousand sermons now entered into our online bibliographic database, this post shines a spotlight on GEMMS sermon # 5555. This sermon illustrates the broad scope of the project, which encompasses not only manuscripts from the British Isles, but also many fascinating records of preaching from the North American colonies. Sermon # 5555, and the wider collection to which it belongs, offers a rare glimpse of preaching in early Newfoundland, which would become part of Canada more than two centuries later in 1949.

During the early eighteenth century, the Anglican clergyman, Jacob Rice (1683-1728), served as minister of St John’s, Newfoundland. The son of Thomas Rice of Newcastle, County Cardigan, Wales, he matriculated at Jesus College, Oxford, on the 13th of March 1699/1700 aged seventeen and received his BA from Magdalen Hall on the 16th of March 1703/4.[1]  Later that year he returned to Cardiganshire to take up a curacy, but in 1705 he was appointed as missionary at St John’s to replace John Jackson, who had served as chaplain to the British garrison since 1701.[2]  A letter of royal appointment by Queen Anne, dated May 1705, survives amongst Rice’s scribal remains. This document declares that Rice was ‘to be Chaplain to the Garrison or Garrisons’ in Newfoundland. A further surviving letter of appointment by the Bishop of London, dated the 3rd of June 1705, states that ‘Jacob Rice Clerk’ was ‘to be admitted to the Ministerial Function in the Province of Newfoundland in America’, having vowed to ‘conform to the Liturgy of the Church of England’.[3] On account of his failure to provide the necessary testimonials prior to his departure for Newfoundland, Rice failed to receive any financial support from The Society for the Propagation of the Gospel.[4]  After residing at St John’s for a number of years, Rice relocated to serve as chaplain to the English garrison at Placentia. Unfortunately, the exact year of this transfer remains uncertain; Rice was still living in St John’s in 1712, but by early 1725 he appears to have taken up an appointment as Rector of North Cray, Kent, England. On his death in September 1728, Rice left £10 to his female servant and the remainder of his estate to his niece, who acted as sole executrix of his will.[5]

Figure 1: Letter of appointment by the Bishop of London. © The Bodleian Library. MS. Rawl. E. 173, ff. 18v-19r.

Two volumes of Jacob Rice’s early eighteenth-century sermons survive in the Bodleian Library, Oxford, as manuscripts Rawlinson E. 173 and Rawlinson E. 174. The first volume contains thirty-three separate sermon entries, six of which bear dates ranging from the 4th of April 1705 to the 23rd of May 1706. Only one sermon, preached on 1 Corinthians 11:29 (‘He that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, not discerning the Lords body’), is explicitly identified as having been preached at St John’s on the 10th of February 1705/6. On this occasion, Rice’s intention was to educate his congregation concerning exactly ‘what is required of them who come to the Lords supper’ (MS. Rawl. E. 173, fol. 198r).  Alongside a number of funeral sermons, this volume also contains a sermon on Joel 2:18 (‘then will the Lord be Jealous for his Land, & pity his people’) which was preached at a fast on the 4th of April 1705. According to Rice’s text: ‘the Government upon this day commands upon pain of such punishment as it may justly inflict’ that all must ‘sanctify a fast’ in accordance with their duties ‘as Englishmen and Protestants’ (fols. 183r-188v).

The second volume of Rice’s sermon manuscripts contains another thirty-three entries. One of this number, preached on Proverbs 10:9 (‘He that walketh uprightly, walketh surely’), is dated the 4th of November 1705 and is identified as ‘the first sermon I preacht at St Johns’ (MS. Rawl. E. 174, fol. 209r). Twelve further entries in this collection bear precise dates, ranging from the 11th of November 1705 to the 4th of August 1706. Nine of the sermons are said to have been preached at St John’s, but Rice also preached at Portsmouth, Gosport and Stoke during August 1705. Again, a number of the entries in this collection are funeral sermons, including one that was preached at the funeral of a merchant, Mr Yeates, on the 3rd of July 1706 (fol. 89v). There are two interesting instances of the same funeral sermon being preached on the deaths of more than one individual, and there are also three clear examples of occasions on which Rice preached two sermons on a particular text on the same date. For example, he seems to have preached on the divine inspiration of Scripture (according to 2 Timothy 3:16) on both the morning and afternoon of a single day (fols. 185r-190v, 191r-196r).

One of Jacob Rice’s sermons is GEMMS sermon # 5555, which spans folios 216r-218r of his first volume of sermon notes (MS. Rawl. E. 173). It was preached on the 23rd of May 1706 at the funeral of a woman named Hannah, the wife of Mr [John?] Mitchell. On this solemn occasion, Rice chose to preach on Matthew 3:8 (‘bring forth fruits meet for Repentance’). This verse forms part of a speech which John the Baptist addressed to the Pharisees and Sadducees who witnessed him baptizing in the river Jordan. Rice began by outlining his interpretation of this Biblical narrative, observing that these Pharisees and Sadducees (a ‘brood of venemous miscreants’), alarmed by forewarnings of ‘dreadfull vengeance’ awaiting their generation, feigned repentance and sought out John’s baptism by water. They desired this ‘outward badge of penitents’ despite lacking any true desire to turn from sin. According to Rice’s interpretation, John refused them baptism on account of their hypocrisy, but offered assurance that this ‘sacrament’ was freely available to all who demonstrated true repentance by their actions.

Figure 2: Beginning of the funeral sermon for Mrs Hannah Mitchell. © The Bodleian Library. MS. Rawl. E. 173, f. 216r. 

On the basis of this Scriptural account, Rice sought to illustrate two points of doctrine; first, ‘what this Repentance is of which he exhorts them to bring forth the meet fruits’ and, secondly, ‘the necessity of bringing forth such fruits’. Rice defined repentance, or μετάνοια, as ‘a sincere and through [sic] change of mind’, a willful resolution to leave off vice and forsake a sinful course of life. This, Rice insisted, is necessary for ‘the satisfaction of God’, since it is on account of the merits of Christ’s death that our repentance is accepted in lieu of our punishment. Only a repentance which bears fruits that lead to personal amendment and to the amendment of others can be acceptable to God. Moreover, these fruits of repentance are essential for ‘the satisfaction of our own consciences’, providing a comforting reassurance of the sincerity of our penitence.

In the final section of this funeral sermon, Rice briefly turned to consider its subject, Mrs Hannah Mitchell, whom he praised as ‘a woman of a kind and obliging temper, modest in her converse’ and, as far as he could tell, ‘of a very good moral life’. His decision to preach on Matthew 3:8 is explained by his subsequent account of having baptized Mrs Mitchell on her deathbed:
She had the misfortune to be brought [to Newfoundland] by sectaries which kept her from the common advantage of a X.tian, which by reason of her modesty which I presume had got a little the upper hand of her she never imparted to me till she lay on her death-bed, where she received the b[enefit]e of Baptism.
Hannah’s sincere repentance was evidenced in her way of life, which, according to Rice, differed markedly from that of the majority of the inhabitants of Newfoundland. From a full assessment of Rice’s sermons, Geoff Peddle has concluded that the Anglican cleric considered the Newfoundlanders amongst whom he ministered to be in desperate need of spiritual reformation.[6] Yet Hannah Mitchell:
had live[d] a considerable time in this countrey without addicting her self to those vices (shame on them) that seem by its so common use to be peculiar to the place, she being a modest, sober, chast, quiet woman, & I hope she has her due reward in Heaven.
Figure 3: End of the funeral sermon for Mrs Hannah Mitchell. © The Bodleian Library. MS. Rawl. E. 173, f. 218r.

Although, as a rule, Rice’s funeral sermons contain only the slightest details concerning the lives of their subjects, he did frequently conclude with brief eulogies of this kind. At the funeral of James Vickers on the 8th of March 1705/6, Rice followed up his sermon by advising his congregation to imitate the ‘honest and upright life and conversation’ of the deceased (MS. Rawl. E. 174, fol. 51v). However, on another occasion, he concluded what appears to have been a funeral sermon on Luke 13:5 with a declaration that his subject had failed to display true repentance, concern for God’s commandments or any desire for Grace. Thus, Rice could:
only hope that God who has shewn mercy in midst of Judgment to many & great sinners has in his great and most condescending Pity received our deceased Brother into his eternal Rest (MS. Rawl. E. 173, fol. 25r).
 Jacob Rice’s extensive collection of sermons constitutes a fascinating window onto the style and content of early eighteenth-century Anglican preaching. These manuscripts supply some evocative insights into the condition of the Anglican Church in Newfoundland in this period and the pastoral approach of missionary preachers. The GEMMS team are eagerly awaiting the launch of our online bibliographic database in spring 2017 when these, and many other early modern British and North American sermon manuscripts, will become more easily accessible for researchers.

All images reproduced with the kind permission of the Bodleian Library.


[1] Alumni Oxonienses: The Members of the University of Oxford, 1500-1714..., vol. 3, edited by Joseph Foster (Oxford, 1891), p. 1250.

[2] Carson I. A. Ritchie, ‘Rice, Jacob,’ in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 2 (University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003) http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/rice_jacob_2E.html (accessed October 12, 2016); Geoff Peddle, ‘The Reverend Jacob Rice: Anglican Ministry and Preaching in Early Eighteenth Century Newfoundland’, MA thesis (Memorial University of Newfoundland, 1996), pp. 9, 15, 20.

[3] Bodleian Library, MS. Rawl. E. 173, fols. 10v-11r, 18v-9r.

[4] Ritchie, ‘Rice, Jacob’; Peddle, ‘The Reverend Jacob Rice’, pp. 22-5.

[5] Ritchie, ‘Rice, Jacob’; Peddle, ‘The Reverend Jacob Rice’, p. 26; Falconer Madan, A Summary Catalogue of Western Manuscripts in the Bodleian Library at Oxford..., vol. 3 (Oxford, 1895), p. 273; The National Archives, PROB 11/624/333.

[6] Peddle, ‘The Reverend Jacob Rice’, p. 100.

~ Lucy Busfield

Friday 5 August 2016

August 5, 1616: Remembering the Gowrie Conspiracy

When James VI and I claimed his southern kingdom, he brought with him an annual celebration of his deliverance from an alleged plot by the earl of Gowrie, John Ruthven, and his brother Alexander on 5 August 1600. By James’s own account, Alexander Ruthven had accosted him while he was out hunting with a story about a man finding a large pot of gold. Falling for this ruse because he thought it might indicate Spanish Catholic gold flowing into the country in preparation for a rebellion, James had been lured to Ruthven House, where his retainers rescued him from a murderous attack, killing both brothers in the process.

The occasion was a difficult one for James’s preachers, since the story seemed far-fetched, and James was the only surviving witness to the most crucial events. In Scotland, preachers such as Robert Bruce openly contested the story. In England, legend has it that Lancelot Andrewes, who preached regularly at court on the 5 August anniversary, begged James on his knees to tell him the truth of the affair. [1] While James steadfastly insisted on his version of events, some suspected that there had been no plot against the king and that the story had been fabricated to cover up the accidental but convenient deaths of two troublesome subjects. The relatively few Gowrie sermons available in print were preached mainly at court and at Paul’s Cross, and are generally by prominent preachers. Manuscript sermons provide an opportunity to expand our understanding of how other preachers approached their task.

One of these preachers was James Cleland, a relative newcomer to the pulpit, who preached at Canterbury Cathedral on 5 August 1616. Little is known of Cleland’s early life, but his initial ambitions appear to have been courtly rather than ecclesiastical. He received his MA from Edinburgh University, and may have come to England in hopes of advancement in 1603. In 1607, he published a how-to guide for young noblemen (Hero-paideia, or The institution of a young noble man) which was apparently popular enough to be reprinted, with variant titles, in 1611 and 1612. He was ordained on 18 June 1614, by John King in the parish church of Fulham, Middlesex, at the somewhat advanced age of 37, at which point he seems to have redirected rather than cast aside his ambitions.[2]

Cleland’s sermon (British Library Royal MS 17 B XIX) follows many of the conventions found in printed Gowrie sermons, such as hinting that Gowrie was motivated by Catholic sympathies, and insisting upon James’s deliverance as a sign of God’s special favour and protection. Unlike most preachers, however, Cleland directly confronts sceptics who question James’s account of the event. He argues that James acted reasonably in going to see the gold, and observes that even Adam and Eve were tricked by dissimulation. In a riskier move, he insists upon the providential nature of the king’s deliverance  by drawing attention to the least credible aspects of the story, asking rhetorically whether it was not “strange” that Alexander Ruthven lost courage to strike the fatal blow, whether it was not “wonderfull” that the king managed to get to a window to call for help at the exact moment that his followers were directly below, and whether it was not “most strange, and wonderfull of all” that the young Viscount Haddington should find a shortcut to the tower room and manage to kill both would-be assassins (f. 11v). However, his strongest argument for the king’s veracity is to remind his audience of a curious sequel to the Gowrie incident, and one that had offered a starring role to George Abbot, then Dean of Winchester, and the future source of Cleland’s preferment.

Figure 1: The opening of Cleland's sermon. © The British Library. Royal MS.17 B XIX, f. 1r.

One of the troubles with the Gowrie narrative was that James had no one to corroborate his story, since the Ruthvens appeared to have acted alone. But in 1608, a full eight years after the incident, authorities claimed they had discovered an accessory to the plot. This was George Sprot of Eyemouth, Berwickshire, a dodgy notary with a habit of forgery, who, under the influence of alcohol, claimed he had known of the plot before it occurred. When questioned, he told the privy council that he had seen a series of letters that Robert Logan, seventh laird of Restalrig, who had died two years earlier, had supposedly exchanged with John Ruthven and others. Under torture, he recanted this story, insisting he had forged the letters. George Home, earl of Dunbar, who stood to gain financially from the ruin of Logan’s estate, allegedly persuaded Sprot to revise his story once again, and at his execution, Sprot claimed that the letter addressed to Ruthven was copied from an original, while he had written the others.[3] The evidence against Sprot was hardly damning, given his reputation and the circumspection of the letter, which offered a safe location for settling a “plot” that might lead to forfeiture of his estates and execution but did not specifically refer to harming the king.

For James, however, the case promised an opportunity to validate his narrative. The king despatched Abbot to Scotland to witness Sprot’s trial and execution, after which Abbot contributed a preface to Sir William Hart’s account of the evidence against Sprot (The Examinations, Arraignement and Conviction of George Sprot, 1608, rpt. 1609). The preface focuses not on Sprot’s trial, but only on his execution, suggesting that Abbot’s role was to witness that justice had been done. However, the publication of the pamphlet clearly demonstrates that he had a more important goal: to bring recalcitrant ministers into line. He concludes by warning preachers “that in cases of highest nature between a King and his rebell they conceiue not things to the worst, and (because they will be opposite to him whom most of all they should honor) by buzzings and whisperings, and secret suggestions, without all ground of trueth, labour to sow sedition in the eares of women and children, or in the mindes of men either weake or ill disposed. For as the lips of the Priest should alwayes preserue knowledge, so should they preserue trueth. And we are to go before our flocks and Congregations in obedience and obsequiousnesse vnto the Christian Magistrate, not in sowing sedition, or making of mutinies, to the disturbance of the State” (37). Curiously, when James appointed Abbot archbishop of Canterbury in 1611, he claimed to be honouring a request made by the recently deceased earl of Dunbar, the man who had profited from Logan’s fall.[4]

Figure 2: Reference to George Sprot in Cleland's sermon. © The British Library. Royal MS.17 B XIX. f. 12v.

Cleland clearly seems to have been rewarded for defending the king and citing the Sprot episode. Abbot appointed him rector at Chartham, Kent, two years later in October 1618, by which time he had also been granted the degree Doctor of Divinity. That same year, Cleland became domestic chaplain to Lodovick Stuart, second duke of Lenox and Richmond, for whom he published a flattering funeral sermon in 1624. Abbot’s hand can be traced here too: in 1616, the archbishop had absolved the duke of his Scottish excommunication, the penalty for suspected Catholic sympathies. Cleland in turn rewarded Abbot in 1626, publishing an effusive sermon that he had preached, once again at Canterbury Cathedral, praising Abbot for supplying a conduit to provide water to the city, and in the process comparing him to Jacob (Iacobs wel, and Abbots conduit, paralleled, preached, and applied, 1626).

There is a curious gap of at least two years between the preaching of the Gowrie sermon and the copying of the manuscript, which includes a marginal reference to a document of 1618. Perhaps Cleland hoped to bolster his resume with a command to publish. If so, he was apparently disappointed. Possibly his defence of James’s story had been too heavy-handed, and more likely to increase scepticism than to put it to rest. Nevertheless, the preservation of this manuscript sermon leads us into a web almost as tangled as that of the Gowrie conspiracy itself.

The above images are used with the kind permission of The British Library.


[1] John Hacket, A Century of Sermons Upon Several Remarkable Subjects (1675), viii.

[2] Information about Cleland’s clerical career is taken from the Clergy of the Church of England Database (CCEd Person ID 39547) http://theclergydatabase.org.uk/ as well as from the title pages of his sermons.

[3] John Simmons, “Sprot , George (d. 1608),” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, online edn., Oxford: OUP, 2004. http://www.oxforddnb.com.libproxy.uregina.ca:2048/view/article/26182 (accessed July 12, 2016).

[4] Kenneth Fincham, “Abbot, George (1562–1633),” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford: OUP, 2004; online edn. January 2011, http://www.oxforddnb.com.libproxy.uregina.ca:2048/view/article/4 (accessed July 12, 2016).

~ Anne James

Wednesday 29 June 2016

GEMMS’s Sermons Taxonomy: Tell us what you think

This spring, Anne and Jeanne introduced GEMMS to its first academic audience at the Renaissance Society of American meeting in Boston in order to seek feedback from others involved as creators and users of large digital humanities projects. In this post, we would like to share one of the first challenges of our work—developing a taxonomy of sermons and reports of sermons. We hope you will send us your questions and comments, because it’s feedback from potential users – like you – that will be crucial to this next phase of our project. We’d like to find out what kinds of information – and especially what kinds of searches – you’d like this database to provide. 

Our Goal: Improved Access

The primary objective of GEMMS is to improve access to manuscript sermons archives, many of which are described only minimally in catalogues. For example, the catalogue entry for British Library MS Add 75511, part of the Althorp papers, indicates that it contains “Sermon notes, medical recipes, and other commonplace material of the Monteage family, 1645-1748.” In fact, the manuscript so described includes fair copies of 20 mid-seventeenth century sermons by prominent puritan preachers, and provides important evidence not only for a number of sermons that are not preserved in print, but also of how they were carefully preserved and possibly circulated; each one is folded and carefully docketed. Since the British Library does not permit photography of this manuscript, the full description in the GEMMS database will be all the more necessary as an aid to further scholarship.

The database will improve situations such as this one, first, by offering more detailed information about the contents of each manuscript; second, by enabling the kinds of searches across repositories and across manuscripts that are not currently possible. These include the ability to search for sermons preached by individual preachers, on specific biblical texts, and on specific occasions and/or at specific locations as well as within a specific date range.

First Steps: Creating a Taxonomy of Sermons and Reports of Sermons

The Challenges of Diversity: The rich diversity of the materials available for inclusion in the database presents immediate problems of classification. Because we see our database as instrumental in establishing a standardized lexicon or common vocabulary for cataloguing, discussing, and interpreting early modern sermon culture, one of our first and basic structural challenges has been to develop a standard taxonomy acceptable to scholars and users of manuscript sermon materials that recognizes the range of manuscript sermon materials, especially in the growing field that examines sermon notes left by preachers, auditors, and readers. Our early forays into manuscript description quickly brought home to us the complexity of the archive and the challenges it offers, not only to us – primary researchers and project administrators – but also to our research assistants, and ultimately to you as users and contributors.

A Preliminary Taxonomy: Our basic division of materials comprises two groups – Sermons and Sermon Reports. We use Sermons to denote a broad category that includes a wide range of records of sermons, including full texts of sermons, sermon notes, and outlines of the main points of sermons. Incomplete sermons also are included in this category as sermon fragments. Each sermon will be entered as a separate record in the database. We added the category of Sermon Reports to our taxonomy to include other types of manuscript records of sermons that only briefly mention sermons, specifically lists of sermons, sermon diaries, commonplace books, and letters. While most sermon reports mention multiple sermons, only one record is entered for each report with a brief summary of the range of sermons recorded rather than a record for each sermon.

The terms we use to classify the materials we examine cover a broad and diverse range. Under the category of Sermons, we include complete sermons, ranging from exquisite fair copies, almost all intended for wider circulation (presentation copies [scribal and authorial]), authorially preserved full-length sermons, and manuscripts used by printers, to fair copies with minor deletions and revisions. Sermons with significant numbers of corrections are identified as Sermon drafts. Sermons that are clearly incomplete are identified as Sermon fragments

Figure 1: Fair copy of a sermon on Psalms 119:11 (Bodleian Library MS. Rawl. E.234)

Figure 2: Presentation copy of a sermon on 2 Corinthians 5:17, preceded by a title page (Bodleian Library MS. Rawl. E. 119)

Sermon notes prepared by preachers include materials in various states of completion. Some are clear, organized, and legible Preachers’ outlines, complete with scriptural citations, headings, and divisions  – the type of document a preacher might bring to the pulpit or save for future reference. We also include Preachers’ notes, working documents, not intended for circulation, ranging from single paragraphs meditating on scriptural passages to more extensive notes. Aware of their potential to register the impact of a sermon as an oral performance, we include a range of Auditors’ and Readers’ notes. Among the materials we’ve examined, some of these notes are thorough and informative; others are practically illegible, but provide a valuable and immediate point of access to a sermon’s moment of delivery or a reader’s engagement with a printed or manuscript sermon. We try to distinguish between notes made by preachers, auditors, and readers, but when their authorship is unclear, we use the generic term Sermon notes.

Figure 3: Auditor's notes of a sermon on Deuteronomy 10:12  (Bodleian Library MS. Rawl. E. 259)

Transcriptions are sermons that have been copied from another source, whether from print, manuscript, or an unknown source. Such transcriptions can indicate interest in the sermon long after its original occasion and help us to trace its circulation and reception. Charles Caesar’s commonplace book (British Library Additional MS 43410) contains sermons transcribed from print with Caesar’s notations on them.

The database also includes Sermon Reports; currently we distinguish four kinds of reports: Sermon lists, Sermon diaries, Commonplace books, and Letters. Sermon reports range from simple listings of sermons with minimal preaching information, to diaries and letters mentioning sermons preached or attended, sometimes offering the writer’s evaluation or interpretation of the sermon, or even identifying some of those present. Lists of sermons can help to identify sermons that may have survived in print or in other manuscripts. For example, Bodleian Library MS. Rawlinson D. 1076 is a catalogue of parliamentary fast and thanksgiving sermons from the 1640s, including an index of the preachers and a sample of the form used for thanking them for their services.

Figure 4: List of Parliamentary Sermons (Bodleian Library MS. Rawl. D. 1076)

Sermon reports are valuable evidence for the preaching and reception of sermons, but include little or no indication of the sermon’s content. Our goal is to identify these materials at the manuscript level without attempting to itemize all of the contents. In some cases, such as the diary of Thomas Crosfield (Queen’s College, Oxford, MS 390), which contains hundreds of brief reports of sermons, it would be impractical to locate and enter the details of each sermon. In these cases, the manuscript record will direct users to the item itself, providing any available information such as persons, places, and dates associated with the manuscript in searchable form so that the user can determine whether an examination of the manuscript itself is warranted.

We have constructed our taxonomy to make useful distinctions that are at once discernible to those entering data and useful to potential users of that data, without creating an overly complex taxonomy that is intimidating to those groups. Click here for our complete sermon taxonomy. We would appreciate suggestions for improvement, queries, or feedback of any sort on how we are organizing our materials.

Feedback from Potential Users: We’re at the point in our project where we would welcome feedback from potential users and contributors. As we refine our design, especially our metadata categories, we need to hear from you, especially with concerns, challenges, and ideas for improving and streamlining our content and our processes. What we really want to know is what you want this database to do for you.

All images reproduced with the kind permission of the Bodleian Library.

Anne James and Jeanne Shami

Tuesday 29 March 2016

The Rawlinson Collection

The Rawlinson Collection, held at the Bodleian Library, Oxford, is undoubtedly one of the most important surviving collections of early modern manuscript sermons. This collection of a wide range of early modern manuscripts contains hundreds of volumes of manuscript sermons. One entire section of the collection, MSS. Rawlinson E, is dedicated to sermons, though manuscript sermons also are found in other sections of the collection. This collection was the work of Richard Rawlinson, who donated the bulk of his books and manuscripts to the Bodleian in the eighteenth century.

Richard Rawlinson, Antiquarian, Nonjuror and Collector

Richard Rawlinson, born on 3 January 1690, was the son of Sir Thomas Rawlinson, a vintner and lord mayor of London in 1706. He was educated at St John’s College, Oxford, graduating with BA in 1711 and proceeding MA in 1713. Rawlinson received the honorary degree of DCL in 1719 and also became a fellow of both the Royal Society and the Society of Antiquaries. Rawlinson was greatly interested in topography, biography and antiquarian studies. All of these interests were encouraged while he was at Oxford, where he was influenced by Anglo-Saxon scholars and the work of Anthony Wood, who had compiled much information on Oxford and its scholars from the seventeenth century. Rawlinson began collecting books as a student and also spent much time studying manuscripts at the Ashmolean Museum and the Bodleian during his time at Oxford.

Rawlinson’s interest in manuscripts also was encouraged by the fact that he was a dedicated Jacobite and nonjuror, principles which he inherited from his father but also shared with many of his fellow antiquarians at Oxford. In 1716, Rawlinson was ordained as a priest in the nonjuring Church of England by Jeremy Collier. In 1728, he was consecrated as a nonjuring bishop. Like many nonjurors, Rawlinson was interested in finding precedents and traditions to justify nonjuring positions. He also played a very important role in preserving the history of the nonjurors, collecting biographical information on the nonjurors along with many of their letters, sermons and other manuscripts.
Rawlinson’s older brother Thomas helped inspire his interest in book collecting, for Thomas was an avid collector and had accumulated a large collection of books and manuscripts by the time of his death in 1725. Unfortunately, by this time, Thomas also was deeply in debt, partly due to his collecting. From 1726 until 1734, Richard Rawlinson spent much of his time cataloguing and arranging for the sale of his brother’s vast collection, under the supervision of his sister-in-law’s new husband. However, Rawlinson managed to purchase many of his brother’s manuscripts when they came up for auction, and these manuscripts enhanced the collection that he had begun to expand while travelling in Europe in the early 1720s.

Rawlinson’s passion for manuscript collecting only increased from the 1730s. He spent much time not only at auctions and bookshops but also at grocers’ and chandler’s shops, ferreting out important manuscripts from amongst papers sold for scrap. Rawlinson organized all these varied papers and had them bound in volumes to preserve them for the future.

By the time of his death in 1755, Rawlinson had amassed an extensive collection of books and manuscripts related to his interests. Because Rawlinson was single and had no heirs, there had long been speculation about the fate of his collection. Before his death, Rawlinson had begun to donate some of items from his collection to worthy institutions, including the Bodleian, St John’s College and the Society of Antiquaries. The Bodleian’s librarian, Humphrey Owen, sought to cultivate this important patron and always made sure to properly acknowledge Rawlinson’s donations to the library. Fortunately for the Bodleian, the Society of Antiquaries removed Rawlinson from his recently-elected post of vice-president in 1754 because of his Jacobite sympathies, and he took the society out of his will. This left the Bodleian and St John’s as the primary beneficiaries in his will, and Rawlinson bequeathed his manuscripts, charters, seals and some of his books to the Bodleian, providing an important addition to its holdings.

Rawlinson’s Early Modern Sermon Collection

Rawlinson collected a wide range of early modern sermons. The earliest sermon notes in his collection date to the 1560s (MS. Rawl. D. 1061), and the collection includes a number of other sermons from the late sixteenth century. The majority of sermons date to the second half of the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries. However, the Rawlinson Collection also contains many sermons from the first half of the seventeenth century, including sermon collections by Archbishop James Ussher preached from 1618 to 1634 (MS. Rawl. D. 1290); Dr Thomas Lushington preached c. 1620-30 (MS. Rawl. E. 95), Bishop Robert Sanderson preached c. 1620-30 (MS. Rawl. E. 96) Dr Francis Rogers, vicar of Alkham, Kent, preached c. 1624 (MS. Rawl. E. 128); and John Bayly of Worcester preached from 1635 to 39 (MS. Rawl. C. 216).

The collection includes sermons by a diverse range of preachers. Rawlinson acquired many sermons by well-known and high-ranking preachers, including numerous bishops. There are multiple-volume collections of sermons by Bishop Peter Gunning (MSS. Rawl. C. 613-25); Bishop Francis Turner (MSS. Rawl. C. 627, E. 8-9, E. 191-94); Dr Thomas Turner, president of Corpus Christi College, Oxford (MSS. Rawl. C. 626, E. 186-90); and Daniel Price, dean of St Aspah (MSS. Rawl. E. 176-85). There also are sermons by Dr Brian Walton, later bishop of Chichester (MS. Rawl. E. 23); Dr Nathaniel Hardy, dean of Rochester (MS. Rawl. E. 1); Archbishop John Tillotson (MS. Rawl. E. 125); Dr Anthony Horneck, preacher at the Savoy, London (MS. Rawl. E. 167); Dr Edmund Gibson, vicar of St Mary, Lambeth and later bishop of London (MSS. Rawl. E. 116-17); and Dr Samuel Clarke, rector of St James, Westminster (MS. Rawl. E. 127).

In addition to the sermons by notable clergy, Rawlinson purchased many sermons by ordinary or even unidentified preachers. There are sermons by Thomas Lydiat, rector of Alkerton, Oxfordshire, from the 1610s (MS. Rawl. E. 168); Dr Thomas Swadlin from c. 1660-70 (MSS. Rawl. E. 136-47); Thomas Naish, sub-dean of Salisbury, from the 1690s (MS. Rawl. D. 1300); and a Mr. Constable, who is likely George Constable, lecturer of St Paul Shadwell, London, from 1706 to 1728 (MSS. Rawl. E. 105-6). There are many volumes of anonymous sermons, such as a collection of sermons preached in Hertfordshire, Essex and Middlesex between 1692 and 1716 (MSS. Rawl. E. 81-89), and of miscellaneous sermons, such as MS. Rawl. E. 21, which contains eighteen sermons that date from 1598 to 1661.

While the bulk of the sermons in Rawlinson’s collection were preached in England, there are some volumes that come from further afield. There are several collections of sermons from Scotland, including three volumes by Robert Leighton, archbishop of Glasgow (MSS. Rawl. D. 142, E. 26-27), and a series of notes recording sermons by a number of Scottish preachers in 1669-70 (MS. Rawl. C. 26). One manuscript contains sermons preached in Scotland and Ireland from the 1630s to the 1650s (MS. Rawl. D. 830), and there is another Irish sermon c. 1630-40 (MS. Rawl. E. 114). There are a number of sermons from Wales, such as some of the sermons by Daniel Price c. 1685-1706 (MSS. Rawl. E. 176-85), and sermon notes from a variety of Welsh preachers from the 1650s (MS. Rawl. C. 261). The collection even includes a few sermons that were preached in Newfoundland by Jacob Rice, who went to the new world in 1705, but later returned to England (MSS. Rawl. E. 173-74).

Although the majority of sermons are by clergy of the Church of England, Rawlinson also acquired sermons by other preachers. Most notably, the collection includes twenty-four volumes of sermons from 1691 to 1715 by the Presbyterian minister Robert Fleming, which were preached in Rotterdam and London (MSS. Rawl. E. 44-67), and eleven volumes of sermons by the Independent minister John Beaumont of Deptford, Kent from 1688 to 1730 (MSS. Rawl. E. 97-103, E. 109-112). There also are several sermons by puritan preachers from the mid-seventeenth century (MS. Rawl. D. 1348), sermon collections by nonconformists from the early 1660s (MSS. Rawl. E. 77, E. 93), sermons by the Baptist minister John Piggot from 1698 to 1703 (MS. Rawl. D. 1352), and collections of sermon notes from a variety of nonconformist preachers from the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries (MSS. Rawl. E. 108, E. 121). Rawlinson obtained a number of French sermons by Huguenot clergy in London from the 1660s to the 1710s (MS. Rawl. D. 641), and sermons and lectures by Jean Nissolles of Jersey from 1699 to 1705 (MS. Rawl. E. 18). There also is a volume of thirty-five German sermons among Rawlinson’s collection, but it is unclear where they were preached (MS. Rawl. E. 25). Unsurprisingly, Rawlinson collected a number of volumes of sermons by nonjurors. He acquired sermons by the nonjuring bishops Samuel Hawes (MSS. Rawl. E. 10-14) and George Hickes (MS. Rawl. E. 20), and by the nonjuring preacher Denis Granville (MS. Rawl. D. 852).

Richard Rawlinson’s passionate, eclectic and undiscriminating interest in early modern manuscripts resulted in a diverse collection of manuscript sermons. Many of these sermons may have been lost without his efforts, and scholars benefit from the fact that Rawlinson was interested not only in well-known but also obscure and anonymous preachers. We currently are entering the details of these manuscript sermons into GEMMS to make this valuable collection more accessible to sermon scholars.


ACAD – A Cambridge Alumni Database http://venn.lib.cam.ac.uk/acad/enter.html [accessed 23 March 2016].

Alumni Oxonienses 1500-1714, ed. Joseph Foster. Oxford, 1891. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/alumni-oxon/1500-1714 [accessed 23 March 2016].

Bodleian Library. "Rawlinson Manuscripts." Online Catalogues of Archives and Manuscripts http://www.bodley.ox.ac.uk/dept/scwmss/wmss/online/1500-1900/rawlinson/rawlinsonCLD.html [accessed 9 March 2016].

Clapinson, Mary. ‘Rawlinson, Richard (1690–1755).’ Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford, 2004. http://www.oxforddnb.com.libproxy.uregina.ca:2048/view/article/23192 [accessed 9 March 2016].

Clergy of the Church of England Database http://db.theclergydatabase.org.uk/jsp/search/index.jsp [accessed 23 March 2016].

Hunt, Richard W., Falconer Madan, and P.D. Record. A Summary Catalogue of Western Manuscripts in the Bodleian Library at Oxford…, vol. 3. Oxford, 1895-1953. http://ox.libguides.com/c.php?g=422900&p=2890408

Macray, William D. Catalogi Codicum Manuscriptorum Bibliothecæ Bodleianæ…Viri Munificentissimi Ricardi Rawlinson…, vols. 1-4. Oxford, 1862-1898. http://ox.libguides.com/c.php?g=422758&p=2890333#3966472

The Surman Index Online http://surman.english.qmul.ac.uk/ [accessed March 24, 2016].

Jennifer Farooq

Saturday 30 January 2016

The Evolution of a Sermon: Thomas Brett on the Execution of Charles I

On this day in 1649, Charles I was executed by order of the Rump Parliament. In January 1661, shortly after the Stuarts were restored to the monarchy, the 30th of January was established as a national day of fasting and prayer. Until the nineteenth century, observations of this anniversary regularly included sermons that considered the events of the day and the importance of the occasion for the nation. Hundreds of 30 January sermons were published during this period, and many more were preached in British churches, chapels and meetinghouses.

Although sermons were an important part of the observation of the 30th of January for many years, the content of these sermons evolved over time. During the Restoration, preachers routinely called on the nation to repent for the great crime regicide and portrayed Charles I as a virtuous and good king, in fact a martyr, who fell victim to the excesses of evil men.[1] By the early eighteenth century, some preachers began to debate the actions and character of Charles I and to question the importance of observing the anniversary. 30th of January sermons were caught up in the partisan battles between Whigs and Tories, when conflicting interpretations of recent history were used to defend party principles. On this anniversary, staunch Tories extolled the principles of the divine right of kings, the duties of non-resistance and passive obedience to monarchs. In contrast, some Whig preachers suggested that Charles I was not an innocent martyr but was at least partly responsible for his fate. They also were anxious to emphasize the differences between 1649 and the Revolution of 1688/9, so that they could condemn the regicide without suggesting the Revolution was resistance against a legitimate monarch. More radical Whigs took this argument further and, though they did not justify the execution of Charles I, they began to argue for the right of resistance to tyrannical rulers, including Charles I.[2]

Much of the scholarship on 30th of January sermons has focused on printed sermons, but the debate about the significance of this occasion also left its traces on manuscript sermons. One notable example of this is an anniversary sermon by Thomas Brett, which he preached at least five times between 1706 and 1718 (Lambeth Palace Library, MS 2220, fols. 2r-8v). This sermon is particularly interesting because it was edited twice, and the changes reflected evolving interpretations of the anniversary. By the early eighteenth century, Brett was a committed Tory,[3] so it is no surprise that the sermon is staunchly royalist and closely followed traditional interpretations of the occasion. In the original 1706 version of the sermon, Brett emphasized the importance of monarchy for the prosperity and security of the nation and praised both Charles I and Queen Anne. He also condemned the regicides and called for national repentance for the sins of that day. Brett described Charles I as “a great Example of Vertue & piety,” and he portrayed Anne as “a gracious Queen,” “in whose Welfare ye Welfare, Happiness & prosperity of ye Nation consists” (fols. 6v, 3v, 8r). He repeatedly emphasized their kinship, warning: “That should we prove disloyal & disobedient to her, & make such a Defection from her as ye Rebellious Subjects of her Royal Grandfather did from him, we shall bring this Nation, & ourselves as parts of it into ye most miserable confusion imaginable” (fol. 7r). Brett was likely targeting radical Whig principles, such as the right of resistance, when he further urged his auditors: “Let us then, as I said, abhor those detestable Principles & practices of Subjects calling princes to an Account, of Deposing & Murdering them, & such like seditious Doctrines wch incited Wicked Men to shed so much innocent blood in ye Land” (fol. 8r).

The first round of editing, very likely by Brett, added more lavish praise of Charles I and harsher reflections on those who had opposed him. After asserting Charles’s divine right to rule as God’s anointed, Brett described him as “a prince of a most excellent Temper & Strength of Understanding & regularity of Affections, having no Transports for any Vice, but endued with Habits of Knowledge & piety” (fol. 5r). Brett further argued that there was never “a more hearty Lover of or [sic] Constitution both in Church & State than he was” (fol. 6v). In contrast, Brett described the regicides as “cruel & unreasonable Men,” “sacrilegious wretches” and “Bloodthirsty & merciless men” (fols. 5r, 7v, 7r). He emphasized that, during the Commonwealth, “this Nation groaned under ye most miserable & slavish oppression, & each particular person was exposed to ye Rapine & Violence of those who had invaded their prince’s prerogative & Fellow-Subjects Rights & privileges” (fol. 5r). The additions may have reflected a hardening of Brett’s opinions in the wake of the trial of the high-flying Tory preacher Henry Sacheverell in 1710. It was at this time that Brett adopted nonjuring views, refusing to take any oaths to the monarchy on the grounds that the legitimate line of royal succession had been broken when James II was deposed in 1688/9.[4] Just before the trial in 1710, many Tories preached strongly in support of non-resistance on 30th of January. In response, Whig preachers condemned high-flying preachers for abusing the occasion and renewed their attacks on the behaviour of Charles I. In the early 1710s, Dissenters also sought to defend themselves and their predecessors from Tories’ accusations of disloyalty to the crown.[5] The provocative language added to the sermon may have been Brett’s response to the challenges to the traditional interpretation of the day by his political opponents, when he preached the sermon in 1711 at Gray’s Inn Chapel, London or in 1712 at Wye, Kent.

What makes this sermon even more interesting is that there was a second round of editing in pencil, when Brett, or more likely someone else, crossed out phrases and whole passages of the sermon that revered Charles I and condemned supporters of the Commonwealth. This editor crossed out a reference to Charles having died as a martyr for the nation (fol. 6v). He also struck out a paragraph condemning the “Mock Trial before a pretended High Court of Justice” and describing the reported horrors of the Commonwealth, when “for many years Hypocrisy, Murder, Sacrilege, Cruelty, Rapine & Tyranny overspread ye Land” (fol. 7v-r). It is possible that Brett regretted some of his more excessive praise of Charles I after the party conflict of the 1710s began to cool, or he may have thought it prudent to moderate his language. It is unlikely that Brett’s views of the anniversary changed because he was strongly committed to the Stuart line. In 1716, Brett was consecrated as a nonjuring bishop, and he remained active in the movement until his death in 1744.[6] It seems probable that someone else modified the sermon. A reader may have crossed out offending passages, or a more mainstream preacher may have tried to adapt Brett’s sermon to the changing political climate later in the eighteenth century, when party heats had waned and auditors wanted a more temperate view of the events of 1649.[7]

The modifications made to Brett’s sermon almost certainly reflect changes in the political climate in the early eighteenth century, as the debate over the interpretation of the anniversary of the execution of Charles I reached a peak. This manuscript sermon also demonstrates, in a way that printed sermons rarely do, how preachers revised their sermons to suit different contexts of delivery, changing expectations of auditors or their own evolving views. It also may illustrate how preachers adapted others’ sermons for their own purposes. Even on the topic of 30th of January sermons, which has been extensively examined by scholars of printed sermons, new insights on preachers’ evolving perspectives on the day can be gleaned from manuscript sermons.


[1] For 30 January sermons before 1689, see Andrew Lacey, The Cult of King Charles the Martyr (Woodbridge, Suffolk: Boydell, 2003), chs. 4-5; Helen W. Randall, “The Rise and Fall of a Martyrology: Sermons on Charles I,” Huntington Library Quarterly 10, (1946-7): pp. 135-52; Kevin M. Sharpe, “‘So Hard a Text’?: Images of Charles I, 1612-1700.” The Historical Journal 43, no. 2 (2000): pp. 394-400; Howard Tomlinson, “Commemorating Charles I - King or Martyr?” History Today 45, (1995): pp. 13-17.

[2] On 30 January sermons in the early eighteenth century, see Jennifer Farooq, Preaching in Eighteenth-Century London (Woodbridge, Suffolk: Boydell, 2013), pp. 125-31, 228-30; J. P. Kenyon, Revolution Principles: The Politics of Party 1689-1720 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1977. Reprint, 1990), pp. 72-82; Lacey, Cult of King Charles, pp. 191-207; Randall, “Rise and Fall of Martyrology,” pp. 156-57; Howard D. Weinbrot, “The Thirtieth of January Sermon: Swift, Johnson, Sterne, and the Evolution of Culture,” Eighteenth-Century Life 34, no. 1 (2010): pp. 31-38.

[3] Robert D. Cornwall, “Brett, Thomas (1667–1744),” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, Oct 2008 [http://www.oxforddnb.com.libproxy.uregina.ca:2048/view/article/3349, accessed 26 Jan 2016]

[4] Cornwall, “Brett, Thomas.”

[5] Farooq, Preaching, pp. 137, 229-30; Lacey, Cult of King Charles, pp. 198-207; Tomlinson, “Commemorating Charles I,” p. 16.

[6] Cornwall, “Brett, Thomas.”

[7] James Caudle, “Measures of Allegiance: Sermon Culture and the Creation of a Public Discourse of Obedience and Resistance in Georgian Britain, 1714-1760” (PhD, Yale University, 1996), pp. 243-47; Randall, “Rise and Fall of Martyrology,” pp. 157-67; Weinbrot, “Thirtieth of January Sermon,” pp. 38-47.

Jennifer Farooq