Francis Atterbury

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Francis Atterbury (6 March 1663 – 22 February 1732) was an English man of letters, politician and bishop. A High Church Tory and Jacobite, he gained patronage under Queen Anne, but was mistrusted by the Hanoverian Whig ministries, and banished for communicating with the Old Pretender. He was a noted wit and a gifted preacher.


  • The Law is as much a Rule to Her, as to the least of Those who obey her; the fixt Measure, not only of Her governing Power, but even of Her Will to govern; and She makes no other Use of that Power, with which the Laws have invested Her, than to give Life and Force to them.
    • The Duty of Publick Intercession and Thanksgiving for Princes. A Sermon Preach'd before the Honourable House of Commons at St. Margaret's, Westminster, on Wednesday, March 8, 1704, in Francis Atterbury, Sermons and Discourses on Several Subjects and Occasions, Vol. I (1740), p. 302
  • [W]e live in Evil Days, when the most important and confess'd Truths, such as by the Wisest and Best Men in all Ages have been rever'd, are by Licentious Tongues question'd, argued against, derided; and these things not only whisper'd in Corners, but proclaimed upon the House-tops; own'd and publish'd, in Defiance of the Common Persuasion, the Common Reason, and the Common Interest of Mankind, and of All Authority, both Sacred and Civil. Libertinism hath erected its Standard, hath declared War against Religion, and openly listed Men of its Side and Party.
    • A Sermon Preach'd in the Guild-Hall Chapel, London, Sept. 28. 1706. Being the Day of the Election of the Right Honourable Lord Mayor, in Francis Atterbury, Sermons And Discourses On Several Subjects And Occasions, Vol. II (1735), pp. 106–107
  • It would be more for the common good to submit to the cruellest tyrant, than to break out into open rebellion, obey no power, and put our last refuge in arms and violence. For this is of all conditions the worst and most miserable that can be imagined; in which, the reins of government being wrested out of the prince's hands, his laws subverted, and his authority trodden underfoot, the populace are at liberty to run headlong into any mischief, and act with impunity whatever their lawless extravagancies prompt them to. 'Tis therefore of universal benefit not to resist evil princes, lest the rebellion prove of worse consequence to the public than the unjust administration itself.
    • A Sermon Preached before the London Clergy at St Alphage, May the 17th, 1709...Translated from the Latin (1710), pp. 23, 25, quoted in J. P. Kenyon, Revolution Principles: The Politics of Party, 1689–1720 (1977), p. 121
  • Vox Populi, Vox Dei is the very Basis, and ground Work, on which all the Super structure of this Pamphlet is rais'd; if therefore we shall prove that, the Voice of the People is the Cry of Hell, leading to Idolatry, Rebellion, Murder, and all the Wickedness the Devil can suggest, it will follow that all the Notions grounded, upon the false Principle of its being the Voice of God, must fall to the Ground, and that the Broacher of them has built upon Sand, and is himself guilty of promoting Irreligion, Profaneness, Sedition, Slaughter, and Confusion.
    • The Voice of the People, No Voice of God (1710), p. 6
  • [T]here are...powerful Motives to make the Whigs open their Arms to embrace all Strangers: One to strengthen their Party. For I scarce ever knew a Foreigner settled in England, whether of Dutch, German, French, Italian or Turkish Growth, but became a Whig in a little time after mixing with us: An Argument that all the World know our Constitution better than we; or that as Strangers have less Concern for us, they strike in with those who are the least affected to England.
    • English Advice, to the Freeholders of England (1714), pp. 23–24

Quotes about Atterbury[edit]

  • Francis Atterbury, the ablest controversialist in the High Church party.
    • George Every, The High Church Party, 1688–1718 (1956), p. 83
  • In 1713 he was made bishop of Rochester and dean of Westminster... “Thus,” says his enemy, Bishop Burnet, “he was promoted and rewarded for all the flame he had raised in our church.” As a debater and public speaker he had long held the highest rank among the representatives of the clergy in convocation, and he soon became almost as prominent a figure in the House of Lords. A fine person and graceful delivery contributed to his success, and, to judge by the almost unanimous testimony of contemporaries, he must have been one of the greatest orators of his day.
  • Atterbury cannot be regarded as a perfect character or as a great divine; but he was a very able man, and in his way a brave and faithful son of the church. If he mingled politics too much with religion, it must be remembered, in justice to him, that the two subjects were so strangely mixed up in that eventful time that it was all but impossible for a public character to disentangle the one from the other. His name will always be a prominent one in the complicated history of the church and nation of England in the latter part of the seventeenth and the early part of the eighteenth century.
  • Francis Atterbury...was a brilliant and dangerous man, prevented only by flaws of temperament from becoming the Newman of the high-church movement. He had splendid gifts, but they were marred by a headiness of judgement, and an inability to brook opposition, or control his wrath when his behaviour was questioned or his authority thwarted. Eloquent as were his utterances in speech and in writing, dazzling his polemic, yet the appearance of great learning was illusory, lacking depth of earth, and in the end he withered.
  • Atterbury was nothing more or less than a Jacobite priest. His writings were extolled by that faction, but his letter on Clarendon's History is truly excellent.
  • His letter in defence of the authenticity of Lord Clarendon's history, is one of the most beautifull & touching specimens of eloquence in our language.
    • Horace Walpole, Reminiscences Written by Mr Horace Walpole in 1788 For the Amusement of Miss Mary and Miss Agnes Berry Now first printed in full from the original MS. With Notes and Index, ed. Paget Toynbee (1924), p. 43

External links[edit]

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