NELSON, ROBERT (1656-1715), English philanthropist and religious writer, son of John Nelson, a London merchant, was born on the zznd of June 1656, and was educated as the private pupil of George Bull, afterwards bishop of St David's. Having inherited considerable fortune from his father, he followed no profession. About 1680 he went abroad and spent much time on the continent of Europe till 1691, when he settled at Blackheath. For many years he was an intimate friend and correspondent of Archbishop Tillotson, though not in agreement with his views; and he was also on terms of friendship with the astronomer Halley and other men of science. Nelson's sympathies were with the Jacobites; and after his return to England he associated himself with the non jurors, under whose influence he produced several of his writings on religious subjects. He was an active supporter of the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel, and similar associations, and he used his influence largely in the establishment of charity schools and the building of churches in London. In 1687 he had published a controversial work against transubstantiation, and in 1704 appeared his Companion for the Festivals and Fasts of the Church of England, which obtained a remarkable popularity lasting till the middle of the 19th century. Within five years of its publication ten thousand copies of the Companion were printed, and thirty-six editions appeared in a hundred and twenty years. After the death of Bishop Bull in 1710 Nelson wrote his biography, which was published three years later; and he was also the author of many other devotional and controversial works. He died in January 1715, in which year was published his Address to Persons of Quality and Estate, containing suggestions for the establishment of special hospitals, schools and theological colleges, many of his proposals being afterwards carried into effect. Nelson married a Roman Catholic, Lady Theophila Lucy, daughter of the earl of Berkeley, and widow of Sir Kingsmill Lucy of Broxbourne.
See Charles F. Secretan, Memoirs of the Life and Times of the Pious Robert Nelson (1860); Thomas Birch, Life of Tillotson (2nd ed., 1753); Thomas Lathbury, History of the Nonjurors (1845).