Seven Jobs for Seven Brothers

In the latest blog for the Georgian Lords, Dr Stuart Handley considers the case of Bishop Reynolds of Lincoln, one of a minority in the episcopate to stand out against Walpole, possibly because of frustration both at his own lack of promotion, but also his endless efforts to find employment for his children.

Richard Reynolds (1674-1744), was chancellor of the diocese of Peterborough (1704-1718), rector of St. Peter’s, Northampton, 1706-1744), dean of Peterborough (1718-1721), bishop of Bangor (1721-1723) and then bishop of Lincoln (1723-44). He was a committed Whig, being excluded from the commission of the peace for Peterborough by the Tory ministry in 1712, along with the dean of Peterborough, White Kennett, the future bishop, and Richard Cumberland junior, the son of the current bishop; all three were re-instated in September 1714, after the arrival in England of George I.

Insofar as Reynolds has received any attention from historians, it has been because of his opposition to the administration of Sir Robert Walpole in the 1730s. To quote the leading ecclesiastical historian of the period, Reynolds was ‘the most consistent opponent of the Walpole ministry on the bench.’ [S. Taylor, ‘The Bishops at Westminster in the Mid-Eighteenth-Century’, Pillar of the Constitution, ed. C. Jones, 144]. He was recorded as voting against the ministry on such matters as the inquiries into the South Sea Company accounts in 1733, the army officers’ bill in 1734, the quaker tithes bill in 1736, and the Spanish Convention of 1739. In all, he signed nine protests in the Lords between 1735 and 1742.

What prompted this rare dissent from the government line? Thwarted ambition may have played a part. After all, unlike his three predecessors at Lincoln, Thomas Tenison, archbishop of Canterbury, William Wake, archbishop of Canterbury and Edmund Gibson, bishop of London, his elevation to Lincoln had not proved to be a stepping-stone to higher office in the Church. His promotion to Lincoln was probably the result of the influence of Walpole’s rival for power in 1721, Charles Spencer, 3rd earl of Sunderland, a man with significant Northamptonshire links. With ecclesiastical power resting with Edmund Gibson, Walpole’s ‘Pope’, from 1723, Reynolds had sent letters vaguely critical of the management of the Church and its hierarchy to his friend and former superior, White Kennett, bishop of Peterborough, another cleric disappointed by his lack of promotion.

Baker, Joseph; A View of Lincoln Cathedral from the West; The Collection: Art & Archaeology in Lincolnshire (Usher Gallery);

Reynolds’ disappointment manifested itself in declining attendance in the House of Lords. For the first eight sessions that he sat in the House of Lords (1721-28), his presence could be relied upon; it never fell below 60 per cent of the sittings, and three times it exceeded 80 per cent. Then in 1729 it fell to 18 per cent and 15 per cent the following year. Thereafter, only in 1733 (the year of the excise crisis) and 1741 (the year when Walpole fell under sustained attack) did his attendance reach respectable levels (above 40 per cent). In most sessions his opposition was characterized more by indifference and absenteeism than activism.

Reynolds’ lack of enthusiasm for the ministry may also have something to do with the problems he faced in trying to launch the careers of his sons. Around the end of the 1690s Reynolds had married Sarah Cumberland, daughter of Richard Cumberland, bishop of Peterborough. They had seven sons surviving to adulthood (George, Charles, Anthony, Thomas, Octavius, Decimus, and Frederick), and one daughter, Anna Sophia, who died in 1737, unmarried, possibly as the result of her portion being deposited by a banker, whose business failed in 1720.

In the event, Reynolds was able to settle all of his sons into the Church, by a judicious use of the patronage available to him, but was unsuccessful in promoting their careers outside of his spheres of influence. In particular, the fate of his third son, Anthony, is instructive. Unlike his brothers, Anthony was destined not for the Church, but the army. In 1721 he became an ensign in the third company of foot guards, and in 1727 he was promoted to the rank of captain. In 1728 he was slated to accompany Major General Richard Sutton, MP for Newark, on a diplomatic mission to Germany. However, in February 1730 Anthony was hauled before a court martial for a duel he had fought in Hyde Park following an altercation with a Major Singleton at a masquerade in the Haymarket. The court martial found against him and following a report to the king he was reduced in the ranks, and subsequently left the army. A press report at the end of March 1731 assured its readers that Anthony Reynolds was not in holy orders. Indeed, at this point he was in America where he was a colonial official in New Hampshire. In mid-February 1743 he was appointed ‘principal register of Lincoln and register under his commissaries of the archdeaconries of Lincoln and Stow.’

The other sons were all employed in the Church from the outset of their careers. George Reynolds succeeded his father as chancellor of Peterborough in 1721, and henceforth was archdeacon of Lincoln from 1725 until his death in 1769, at which point he was still chancellor of Peterborough. His brother Charles was appointed by his father as chancellor of Lincoln in 1726, a post he retained until his death in 1766. The fourth son, Thomas, became rector of Wootton Wawen in Warwickshire and eventually secured appointment (along with his brother George) to the offices held by the long-serving clerical official, George Newell, who died in 1741. Octavius, Decimus and Frederick all joined the Church, and became prebends of Lincoln.

Reynolds’ reward for his conscientious application to the interests of his offspring was to be pilloried as a bishop given to lax standards regarding ordinations, in order to maximise their numbers, and hence to boost the income of his sons from the fees payable. One person even referred to it as a ‘shop’. Reynolds was, it was thought, ‘a good natured man; but his numerous family… occasioned the reproach’.


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