Decorated initial T

he Tory ascendancy under George III had modified the political colour of the Anglican body. In the earlier Hanoverian decades, the hierarchy, nominated by the Government, was, on the whole, Whig; the clergy, appointed by lay patrons, Tory. Then, gradually, the Sees came to be filled with men in closer sympathy with the mass of the clergy, men, too, for the most part, of a type superior in piety and learning to the bishops of the first two Georges, while, with the improvement of the land, Holy Orders became a more and more attractive profession for the sons of gentlemen. Thus the Church of England after its long lethargy was reconsolidated, with a distinctly aristocratic colouring, about the time when the Evangelical example was raising the moral level of its ministers. The result was that phase which Froude declared to be the golden age of the Church, when her princes were still princes, and her pastors enforced the simple morality and administered the simple consolations, of village life, with the authority due rather to personal character, birth, and learning than to any pretensions as priests.

There was another side to the picture. The ministers of the Church were at once too rich and too poor. The Archbishopric of Canterbury and the Bishopric ofDurham were each worth £19,000 a year; Rochester, £14,000; Llandaff less than £1,000. Of 10,000 benefices,. the average value was £285. Less than 200 were worth £1,000 and upward, but among them were livings of £2,000, £5,000, and one of over £7,000 a year. The poor parson was therefore very poor, the curate poorer still, best off in Rochester on £109 a year, worst off in St. David’s on £55. The mischief was aggravated by pluralism, non-residence, and nepotism. A great Church family, taking sons, nephews, and sons-in-law together, might easily collect £10,000 a year among them and leave the greater part of their duties to be discharged by curates at £80. The best of parsons could not help being a little too much of a magistrate and landowner, and not enough of a pastor. Into the gaps left in his spiritual ministrations crept dissent, with its opportunities for personal distinction, close converse, and mutual inspection. At the beginning of our period it was estimated that the Church, the Dissenters, and the Roman [Catholic]s were in the ratio of 120, 80, and 40.

Related material


Young, G.M. Victorian England: Portrait of an Age. 2nd ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1953.

Last modified 26 April 2019