John Tillotson

Late Archbishop of Canterbury


October 10, 1630
November 22, 1694


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John Tillotson (1630-1694), Archbishop of Canterbury

Tillotson was the son of a Puritan clothier in Sowerby, Yorkshire, where he was born in October 1630. He entered as a pensioner of Clare Hall, Cambridge, in 1647, graduated in 1650 and was made fellow of his college in 1651. About 1661 he was ordained without subscription by T. Sydserf, a Scottish bishop. Tillotson was present at the Savoy Conference in 1661, and remained identified with the Presbyterians till the passing of the Act of Uniformity in 1662. Shortly afterwards he became curate of Cheshunt, Herts and in 1663, rector of Kedington, Suffolk. He now devoted himself to an exact study of biblical and patristic writers, especially Basil and Chrysostom.

The result of this reading, and of the influence of John Wilkins, master of Trinity College, Cambridge, was seen in the general tone of his preaching, which was practical rather than theological. In 1664 he became preacher at Lincoln's Inn. The same year he married Elizabeth French.

In 1663 he published a characteristic sermon on "The Wisdom of being Religious," and in 1666 replied to John Sergeant's Sure Footing in Christianity by a pamphlet on the "Rule of Faith." The same year he received the degree of D.D. In 1670 he became prebendary and in 1672 dean of Canterbury. In 1675 he edited John Wilkins's Principles of Natural Religion, completing what was left unfinished of it, and in 1682 his Sermons.

Along with Burnet, Tillotson attended Lord Russell on the scaffold in 1683. He afterwards enjoyed the friendship of Lady Russell, and it was partly through her that he obtained so much influence with Princess Anne, who followed his advice in regard to the settlement of the crown on William of Orange. He possessed the special confidence of William and Mary, and was made clerk of the closet to the king in March 1689. It was chiefly through his advice that the king appointed an ecclesiastical commission for the reconciliation of the Dissenters. In August of this year he was appointed by the chapter of his cathedral to exercise the archiepiscopal jurisdiction of the province of Canterbury during the suspension of Sancroft. He was also about the same time named dean of St Paul's. Soon afterwards he was elected to succeed Sancroft; but accepted the promotion with extreme reluctance, and it was deferred from time to time, at his request, till April 1691. In 1693 he published four lectures on the Socinian controversy. His attempts to reform certain abuses of the Church, especially that of clerical nonresidence, awakened much ill-will, and of this the Jacobites took advantage, pursuing him to the end of his life with insult and reproach. He died on the 22nd of November 1694.

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