John Tillotson, the son of a clothier, has shed a greater lustre on the township which gave him birth than any of the other distinguished men whom Sowerby has produced and as in the past, so in the future is it likely that the old mansion at Haugh End, where John, Tillotson was born will attract visitors from all parts of the kingdom. Many, too, will like to visit the church where Robert Tillotson an earnest, thoughtful Churchman, though a Puritan, took his son John when a boy to hear the minister of the parish, the Rev. Henry Root, and where the said John, after he had become a Doctor of Divinity and Dean of St Paul's, afterward preached to a large congregation, many of whom knew him when a boy.
Robert Tillotson, the clothier, who resided at Haugh End, was descended from a family of the name of Tilson, of Tilson, in Cheshire. Robert's grandfather was Thomas Tilson, of Wookliff, in the parish of Carlton, in Craven, and he changed his surname to Tillotson. The son of this man, named George Tillotson, married Eleanor daughter of Ellis Nutter, of Pendle Forest, in Lancashire of whom was born Robert, the father of John, the future Archbishop. Robert married Mary, the daughter of Thomas Dobson, of Stones, in Sowerby, gentleman, a woman of excellent character. The parents of the Archbishop were more remarkable for their integrity and piety than for rank and fortune. Robert is said to have had a good understanding, and an uncommon knowledge of the Scriptures. He was a member of Mr Root's church at Sowerby, and embraced some Calvinistic doctrines. He had four sons - Robert, John, (the Archbishop), Joshua, and Israel. In earlier times few Scripture names occur in the parish, but about this time they became more common, and the mind of the father may be noticed in the names given to his children.
John Tillotson was born in September, 1630, at Haugh End. At that time the people of Sowerby were not allowed to baptise, marry, or bury at their own church, but had to go the Parish Church at Halifax. In the register there is the following entry;-
Bapt. Octr. 3, 1630, John Robert Tilletson, Sourb
The story is told that when Robert wished to settle upon one or other of his sons to be brought up to a learned profession, he made them all read to him from the new Testament, and as John proved to be the best reader he was sent to school, and then to the university. John ever afterwards evinced a strong feeling of gratitude to his father for his self denying efforts in this giving him a liberal education, and the son was enabled in later days to return the kindness, both to his father and his brothers.
Young, the author of his life, says:-
"His first education and impressions were among those who were then called Puritans, but of the best sort. Yet even before his mind was opened to clearer thought, he felt some what within him that disposed him to larger notions and a better temper. The books which were put into the hands of the youth of that time were generally heavy; he could scarce bear them, even before he knew better things. He happily fell on Chillingworth's Book, which gave his mind that play that it held ever after, and put him on a true scent. He was soon freed from his prejudices, or rather, he was never mastered by them. Yet he still stuck to the strictness of life to which he was bred, and retained a just value and a due tenderness for the men of that persuasion."
After passing through the Grammar schools, where he attained a skill in the learned languages superior to his years, he was sent to Cambridge in the year 1647, and on the 23rd of April of that year, was admitted a pensioner of Clare Hall, being then only 17 years of age. Here he was under the tuition of Mr David Clarkson, a Presbyterian. About two months after Tillotson was admitted, Charles the First went to Cambridge, and lodged at the house of Sir John Cuts, near the University, and the scholars went thither to kiss the King's hand. The author of a pamphlet referring to Tillotson, says;-
"He and some few more had so signalised themselves for those they then called Roundheads, that they were not admitted to that honour with the rest of the scholars."
Replying to this assertion, the Bishop of Sarum wrote to the effect that after inquiry had been made into the truth of the above, it was found to be false. He also says:-
"It was no wonder if such a freshman was not admitted to the honour of kissing the king's hand, when he was in that neighbourhood two months after that. It is not likely that he pretended to it, or that it would have been denied if he had."
In 1650 he took the degree of Bachelor of Arts, and was elected fellow before Christmas that year. The pamphlet above mentioned, in respect to this fellowship. Says;-
"He got the Rump's mandamus for Dr Ganning's (which, I think, one of his own gang enjoyed a little before him) as a reward for his good affection to the cause. From that time to his discontinuance he governed the College, the senior fellows not daring to oppose him, because of the interest he had with his great masters; and so zealous was he for them, that the corner of the College, which he and his pupils took up in the new building, was called the Round Head Corner."
Mr Denton, who was at Clare Hall at the same time as Mr Tillotson, says, in a letter, that he believed Mr Tillotson got his fellowship by election and not by a mandamus, and as to what was said about governing the college, &c., vas very malicious and false, for, he continues:-
"He was not of an imperious humour but had then that sweetness of temper which he ever after retained, and was much respected by the senior fellows. He was, indeed, in those young years, of very great parts and prudence, and the senior fellows would always have his advice in what was done about college affairs, giving that great deference to his judgement."
In 1654 he took the degree of Master of Arts. In his fourth year at college, his life was endangered by a severe illness, and he had to return home to Haugh End to re-establish his health. Whilst Tillotson was at college he enjoyed the friendship of many great and good men, with whom he had there become acquainted and these did much towards perfecting his mind. He also became a close and intimate friend of Dr. Wilkins, who afterwards became Bishop of Chester.
In 1656, Tillotson became tutor to the son of Edmund Prideaux, Esq., of Ford Abbey, in Devonshire. Prideaux had been Commissioner of the Great Seal under the Long Parliament, and was then Attorney General to the Protector, Cromwell. Tillotson was in London at the time of Cromwell's death, September 3rd, 1658, and about this time witnesses a remarkable scene in Whitehall Palace.
On the fast day of the household the had to curiosity to go into the presence chamber, where was Richard Cromwell, the new Protector, with the rest of the family and six preachers. The extravagance of these men filled Tillotson with disgust. The time when he entered holy orders is not known, nor by whom he was ordained. The late Dr. Halley, the author of "Yorkshire : its Presbyterianism and Nonconformity," in a letter to the Rev. Bryan Dale, of Halifax, says;-
"I believe he (Tillotson) became Archbishop of Canterbury without ever complying with the Act of Uniformity. It is strange his biographer, Birch, could not describe by what bishop he was ordained. It is, however, certain he obtained his ordination from a Scotch bishop who required no subscription of any kind and it is doubtful whether he did not live and die a Nonconformist."
The first sermon of his that appeared in print was in September 1661; it was preached at the "morning exercise," at Cripplegate, on Matthew vii. 12." At the time of preaching this sermon he was still among the Presbyterians, and as an auditor he attended the conference at the Savoy, for the review of the Liturgy in July, 1661. His first office in the church was the curacy of Cheshunt, in Hertfordshire in 1661 and 1662, and Dr Birch, his biographer, says he complied with the Act of Uniformity. In Young's life of Tillotson is the following:-
"Abundance of the parishioners of Cheshunt well remember Tillotson being curate there, particularly Mr Mott, the parish clerk and schoolmaster, who says that Sir Thomas Dacres gave him his board, and he lived at the great house near the church; that he behaved himself there exceedingly well, and did a great many good things; amongst the rest, by his mild and gentle behaviour and persuasive eloquence, he prevailed with an old Oliverian soldier, who set up for an Anabaptist preacher, and preached in a red coat, and was much followed in that place, to desist from that encroachment upon the parish minister."
On the 18th of June, 1663, he was inducted into the Rectory of Ketton, in Suffolk; in 1664 he was preacher to that honourable society Lincolns Inn; and the same year was chosen lecturer at St Laurence's Church, in London. He now had obtined a reputation as a great preacher, and the clergy from all parts of the Metropolis attended the services at St Laurence Jewry for the purpose of forming their minds. As a preacher, Tillotson was little disposed to follow the patterns then set him, but formed one for himself, which was long esteemed as a model. Tillotson earnestly preached against the growing evils of Charles the Second's reign, atheism and Popery, and though his great abilities and constant labours procured him many friends, he was not without his enemies. He was charged by some with being a Socinian; and, the author of "some discourses upon Dr Burnet and Dr Tillotson," says that a great lady resorted to his church to receive the sacrament of the Lord's Supper in the irreverent posture of sitting. The former imputation has been proved to be unfounded by the Archbishop's published sermons, and the latter story was probably a malicious invention.
On the 23rd Feburary, 1664, he married Elizabeth French, daughter of Dr French, Canon of Christ Church, Oxford, and niece of Oliver Cromwell. In 1666, he obtained the degree of Doctor of Divinity and in 1669, he was canon of Christ Church, in Canterbury. He was Prebend of Canterbury in 1670. Dean of Canterbury in 1672 and Prebend of St Paul's in 1675. He was also Chaplain to the King, though it is said that his great zeal against Popery was too great for him to be much of a favourite at court. He exercised great moderation for Protestant Dissenters, and in 1668 joined in a treaty for a comprehension of such as could be brought into communion with the church, and for that purpose he corresponded with Richard Baxter, but the attempt proved abortive.
In 1675, Dr Tillotson, then Dean of Canterbury, visited his father, for Oliver Heywood in his diary, says:-
"Dr Tillotson came to Sowerby, May 21, 1675, to visit his aged father, Robert Tillotson, who is eighty four; allows his father, who traded all away, £40 a year to live upon. Preached at Sowerby twice, on Lord's Day, May 23, being Whit Sunday , on 1 John, iii, 10, plainly and honestly, though some expressions were accounted dark and doubtful. May 30, he preached at Halifax."
Watson, referring to this occasion, says that Tillotson preached before his father at Sowerby chapel, against the doctrine of Calvin, probably with an intent to rectify his father's notions, and one Dr Maud, who had frequent disputes with the Archbishop's father about predestination, asking him how he liked his son's discourse, the old man replied in his usual way, when he asserted anything with earnestness, "I profess he had done more harm than good."
Amongst other traditions preserved at Sowerby, is one that the fine yew tree in front of the mansion at Breck, formerly the residence of some of the Tillotson family, and now occupied by Colonel Blewitt, was planted by the Archbishop, when a boy.
On the 2nd of April 1680, he preached before the King at Whitehall, and the sermon was printed by his majesty's special command, under the title of "The Protestant Religion vindicated from the charge of singularity and novelty." About this time, Dr Tillotson gave £50 towards a fund for supplying a fair impression of the Bible and the Liturgy of the Church of England in the Welsh tongue. One thousand of these were freely given to the poor, and the rest were "sold to the rich at very reasonable and low rates, Viz., at 4s. a piece, well bound and clasped, which was much cheaper than any English Bible was ever sold that was of so fair a print and paper." With all Dr Tillotson's preferments, he did not advance his fortunes, and his labours were indeed great, for in addition to his ordinary duties he gave to the public from the manuscripts of Bishop Wilkins, a volume of 15 chapters and prepared Dr Barrow's sermons for the press, besides several of his own discourses.
The following amusing anecdote shows how the Dean honoured his father. It is said that the old man set out from Sowerby to see his son John in London. Not troubling himself about exact proprieties, he appeared in the great metropolis in the dress of a plain countryman. Enquiring of a footman whom he met near the Dean's residence, If he could tell him "Where John Tillotson lived." The footman replied, "John Tillotson! You mean the Dean, my master? He lives hers." "Aye, aye," said the clothier, "that's the chap I want; shew me to him." The footman was urging the impropriety of the rough Yorkshireman's address, when the Dean caught sight of the venerable old man opposing the remonstrance of his domestic. He quickly threw open the window, and cried out, "shew him in; he's my father." He then immediately went to the door, and in the presence of his servants and friends, fell on his knees and asked the old man's blessing.
In Charles the Second's time, the story was circulated that Dr Tillotson had never been baptised. It was said "That we had a Father of our Church, who was never a son of it." To stop the mouth of his slanderers, the Marquis of Halifax, his patron and friend, applied to the minister and churchwardens at Halifax, who transmitted a certificate that Dr Tillotson was baptised at Halifax on the 3rd of October, 1630, and it was signed as follows:-
In 1689 came the Revolution, and Dr Tillotson was made Clerk of the Closet to William the third, who, with Queen Mary, were desirous of having him near them. To advise them both in public concerns and in their own private religious affairs. A day of better things arrived, and the Act of Toleration was passed. There can be little doubt that much is due to the influence of Dr Tillotson for the civil and religious liberties obtained in this reign.
In 1691 John Tillotson, the son of the Sowerby clothier, received the highest honour that could be conferred upon him, for he was made Archbishop of Canterbury. His predecessor Archbishop Sandcroft, with a number of other bishops refused to take the oath of allegiance to the king and were deprived, and the vacant sees filled up, and it was Tillotson who was chosen in these difficult times to sit at the head and govern the Church. He was consecrated to the office on Whit Sunday, May 31st in Bow Church, by the Bishop of Winchester. The promotion of Tillotson to so high a dignity drew down upon him the displeasure of a large party, who tried to heap calumnies upon him until the end of his days, and even afterwards. About a year after he had been settled in his see, he entered in short hand some reflections of his in his common place book. Here he says;-
"It is a very odd and fantastical sort of life for a man to be continually from home, and most of all a stranger at his own house."
"It is surely an uneasy thing to sit always in a frame of mind and to be perpetually upon a man's guard; not to be able to speak a careless word, or to use a negligent posture, without observation and censure. Men are apt to think that they, who are in highest places, and the most power, have most liberty to say and do what they please. But it is quite otherwise; for they have the least liberty, because they are most observed."
After a little over three years service as archbishop, he was seized with his last illness on Sunday, the 18th of November, 1694, whilst conducting divine service at Whitehall, and the illness turned to a stroke of palsy. He continued serene and calm to the last, and died on Thursday, the 22nd November, at five o'clock in the afternoon, in the 65th years of his age. He was buried on the 30th of the same month in the Church of St Laurence Jewry, and the funeral was attended by a numerous train of coaches filled with persons of the first quality. The only legacy the Archbishop left his family was the copy of his posthumous works, which was sold for £2,500. This was increased by an annuity to the widow by the king of £400 in 1695, and £200 more in 1698. A learned and pious divine, who knew Tillotson, says;-
"He taught by his sermons more ministers to preach well, and more people to live well, than any other man since the apostles' days; he was the ornament of the last century, and the glory of his function; in the pulpit another Chrysostom, and in the Episcopal chair a second Cranmer. He was so exceeding charitable that while in a private station he always laid aside two tenths of his income for charitable uses."
Tillotson's sermons were translated into several languages after his death. As for the style of writing, Dryden avowed that if he had any talent for English prose, it was owing to having read the works of Archbishop Tillotson. Addison considered Tillotson's literary productions as the chief standard of our language. As to his personal appearance, we are told that his countenance was fair and very amiable, his face round, his eyes vivid, and his air and aspect quick and ingenuous. His hair was brown and bushy; he was moderately tall, and very slender in his youth; his constitution was but tender and frail to outward appearance. In after life he became corpulent. In 1672, Tillotson sat to a lady artist, Mrs Beale, for his picture, which afterwards passed into the family of Tillotson's friend, Dr Stillingfleet. Some time ago, it was presented to Sowerby Parsonage, where it now is.
Sowerby may justly be proud of such a man, and it is in his honour that a fine monument has been placed in Sowerby Church. It is a full length marble statue of the worthy prelate, in his robes, represented with one hand resting on the open Bible, and the other stretched out as though in the act of preaching. Beneath is the following modest inscription :-
It was under the direction of George Stansfeld, Esq., of Field House, that this statue was placed in the church. He entrusted the work to a most eminent artist, Joseph Wilton, R. A., who afterwards presented the owner of Field House with an exact model of the Archbishop's statue, and this model now occupies a prominent position in the entrance hall at Field House, the residence of colonel Stansfeld, J.P. Placed in front is the following inscription:-
"To George Stansfeld, Esq., under whose direction the marble statue of Archbishop Tillotson was executed and erected in Sowerby Church, this model, in sincerest gratitude, is respectfully dedicated by Joseph Wilton, R. A., Statuary to the King, and keeper of his Majesty's Royal Academy, in London, the year of our Lord MDCCXCVI."