Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Sacheverell, Henry

SACHEVERELL, HENRY (1674?–1724), political preacher, son of Joshua Sacheverell, rector of St. Peter's Church, Marlborough, Wiltshire, was born in or about 1674, for he was fifteen when he matriculated at Oxford in 1689. He claimed to be connected with the Sacheverells of New Hall, Warwickshire, and of Morley, Derbyshire, and his claim was admitted by some of them, but the connection has not been made out. It is fairly certain that he was descended from a family formerly called Cheverell that held the manor of East Stoke, Dorset, from the reign of Edward IV until the manor was sold by Christopher Cheverell in or about 1596. John Sacheverell, rector of East Stoke and Langton-Matravers in the same county, who died in 1651, left three sons, John, Timothy, and Philologus, all of whom were nonconformist ministers and were ejected in 1662. At the time of his ejection John ministered at Wincanton, Somerset. He had an estate of 60l. a year, which came to him by his third wife, but it went to her two daughters by a former husband, and this probably accounts for the fact that his eldest son Joshua, of St. John's College, Oxford, who graduated B.A. in 1667, and was the father of Henry, was in poor circumstances. The story that he was disinherited by his father for attachment to the church must be regarded with suspicion, especially as it is also said that his father left him his books (Hutchins, History of Dorsetshire, i. 413, 423–4, 3rd ed.; Calamy, Memorials, iii. 222–4, ed. Palmer; Glover, History of Derbyshire, I. ii. 220).

As his father was poor and had other children, of whom two sons besides Henry and two daughters are mentioned, and Thomas and Susannah known by name, Sacheverell was adopted by his godfather, Edward Hearst, an apothecary, who sent him to Marlborough grammar school. After Hearst's death his widow Katherine, who resided at Wanborough, Wiltshire, provided for the lad, and sent him to Magdalen College, Oxford (28 Aug. 1689), where he was chosen demy (Bloxam). It is believed that he was the ‘H.S.’ to whom, as his friend and chamber-fellow, Addison dedicated a poem in 1694. He himself wrote some verses, translations from the Georgics, and Latin verses in ‘Musæ Anglicanæ’ (vol. ii.) on the death of Queen Mary. On 31 Jan. 1693 he was reproved by the college authorities for contemptuous behaviour towards the dean of arts, but it is evident that his conduct was generally good. He graduated B.A. on 30 June, proceeded M.A. on 16 May 1695, was elected fellow in 1701, was pro-proctor in 1703, was admitted B.D. on 27 Jan. 1707, and created D.D. on 1 July 1708, in which year he was senior dean of arts in his college; he was bursar in 1709. He was incorporated at Cambridge in 1714. He took several pupils, and seems to have held the living of Cannock, Staffordshire. Both in pamphlets and sermons he advocated the high-church and tory cause, and violently abused dissenters, low churchmen, latitudinarians, and whigs. He aired his predilections in ‘Character of a Low Churchman,’ 4to, 1701, and another pamphlet ‘On the Association of … Moderate Churchmen with Whigs and Fanatics,’ 4to, 3rd ed. 1702, and he joined Edmund Perkes, of Corpus Christi College, in writing ‘The Rights of the Church of England,’ 4to, 1705. Not less violent than his pamphlets, his sermons on political and ecclesiastical matters attracted special attention owing to his striking appearance and energetic delivery. Some of them, preached before the university of Oxford, were published, and one of these, preached on 2 June 1702, was among the publications that called forth Defoe's ‘Shortest Way with the Dissenters,’ and is referred to in his ‘Hymn to the Pillory.’ He was elected chaplain of St. Saviour's, Southwark, in 1705.

On 15 Aug. 1709, when George Sacheverell, whom he claimed as a relative, was high sheriff of Derbyshire, Sacheverell preached the assize sermon at Derby on the ‘communication of sin,’ from 1 Tim. v. 22. This was published (4to, 1709) with a dedication to the high sheriff and the grand jury. On 5 Nov. following Sacheverell preached at St. Paul's before the lord mayor, Sir Samuel Garrard [q. v.], and aldermen on ‘the perils of false brethren in church and state,’ from 2 Cor. xi. 26, this sermon, with some additions and alterations, being virtually identical with one preached at St. Mary's, Oxford, from the same text on 23 Dec. 1705. The Oxford sermon had excited Hearne's admiration by the boldness with which the preacher exposed the danger of the church from ‘the fanatics and other false brethren,’ in spite of the resolution passed the same month by both houses of parliament that the church was ‘in a flourishing condition,’ and that whoever seditiously insinuated the contrary should be proceeded against as ‘an enemy to the queen, the church, and the kingdom.’ Both the assize and the St. Paul's sermons are extremely violent in language. In the latter especially (November 1709), Sacheverell spoke strongly in favour of the doctrine of non-resistance, declared that the church was in danger from toleration, occasional conformity, and schism, openly attacked the bishop of Salisbury [see Burnet, Gilbert], and pointed at the whig ministers as the false friends and real enemies of the church, calling such, as he described them to be, ‘wiley Volpones’ (p. 22), in obvious reference to the nickname of the lord treasurer, Sidney Godolphin, first earl of Godolphin [q. v.] The proposal that the St. Paul's sermon should be printed was rejected by the court of aldermen, but it was nevertheless published (4to, 1709) with a dedication to the lord mayor, who, in spite of his subsequent denial, was generally believed to have encouraged its publication, and was declared by Sacheverell to have done so. On 13 Dec. John Dolben (1662–1710) [q. v.] called the attention of the House of Commons to both sermons, and they were declared by the house to be ‘malicious, scandalous, and seditious libels, highly reflecting upon Her Majesty and her government, the late happy revolution, and the protestant succession.’ The next day Sacheverell and the printer of the sermons, Henry Clements, appeared at the bar of the house, and Sacheverell owned the sermons. Clements was let go, but the house ordered that Sacheverell should be impeached for high crimes and misdemeanours, and he was committed to the custody of the sergeant-at-arms. A resolution passed the same day in favour of his rival, the whig divine, Benjamin Hoadly (1676–1761) [q. v.], was pointed at him. His petition on the 17th to be admitted to bail was refused on the 22nd by 114 votes to 79. The articles of impeachment were agreed to in spite of the vigorous opposition of Harley, afterwards first earl of Oxford [q. v.], and William Bromley (1664–1732) [q. v.] by 232 to 131, objection being taken to the St. Paul's sermon and the dedication of the assize sermon only. Some of the leading whigs, and specially Lord Somers, the president of the council, disapproved of the impeachment, but it was urged on his fellow ministers by Lord Sunderland, and heartily approved by Godolphin, who was irritated at the insult to himself (Swift, Works, iii. 180). Sacheverell, having been transferred to the custody of the officer of the House of Lords, was, on 14 Jan. 1710, admitted to bail by the lords, himself in 6,000l. and two sureties, Dr. William Lancaster [q. v.], vice-chancellor of Oxford, and Dr. Richard Bowes of All Souls' College, vicar of New Romney, Kent, in 3,000l. each. On the 25th he sent in a bold and resolute answer to the articles.

Meanwhile the feeling of the country was strongly on Sacheverell's side, and it is said that forty thousand copies of the St. Paul's sermon were circulated. The case was made a trial of strength between the two parties, and the whigs gave special importance to it by ordering that it should be heard in Westminster Hall. The consequent delay gave time for the public excitement to reach the highest pitch. Prayers were desired for the doctor in many London churches; he was lauded in sermons, and the royal chaplains openly encouraged and praised him. When, on 27 Feb., the day on which the trial began, he drove from his lodgings in the Temple to Westminster, his coach was followed by six others, and was surrounded by a vast multitude shouting wishes for his long life and safe deliverance. Among the managers of the impeachment were Sir James Montagu [q. v.], the attorney-general, Robert (afterwards Sir Robert) Eyre [q. v.], the solicitor-general, Sir Thomas Parker [q. v.], and Sir Joseph Jekyll [q. v.], while Sacheverell's counsel were Sir Simon Harcourt [q. v.], Constantine Phipps, and three others. The queen, who went occasionally in a kind of private manner to hear the proceedings, was greeted by the crowd with shouts of ‘God bless your majesty and the church. We hope your majesty is for Dr. Sacheverell.’ Riots were raised on the 28th, meeting-houses were attacked, the houses of several leading whigs were threatened, and the mob was only kept in check by the horse and foot guards. After Sacheverell's counsel had spoken, he read his own defence, which was very ably written, and was generally believed to have been composed for him by Atterbury. On 20 March the lords declared him guilty by 69 to 52, the thirteen bishops who voted being seven for guilty to six for acquittal. Sentence was given on the 23rd. It was merely that he should be suspended from preaching for three years; he was left at liberty to perform other clerical functions, and to accept preferment during that period. His two sermons were ordered to be burnt by the common hangman. Such a sentence was felt to be a triumph for him and the high-church and tory party, and the news of it was received with extraordinary enthusiasm throughout the kingdom; great rejoicings being made in London, Oxford, and many other towns, and continued for several days. The ladies were specially enthusiastic, filled the churches where he read prayers, besought him to christen their children, and called several after him. During the progress of the trial he had been presented by Robert Lloyd of Aston, Shropshire, one of his former pupils, to the living of Selattyn in that county, said then to be worth 200l. a year. On 15 June he set out for that place. His journeys there and back were like royal progresses. A large party on horseback accompanied him to Uxbridge, and he was received with great honour at Oxford, Banbury, and Warwick, and at Shrewsbury, where the principal gentry of the neighbourhood and some fifty thousand persons assembled to meet him. On his way back he reached Oxford on 20 July, and was escorted into the city by the sheriff of the county and a company of five hundred, having arranged his coming at the same time as the visit of the judges, in order, it was believed, to secure a large attendance. In August Godolphin was dismissed, the remaining ministers were turned out of office in September, and at the general election in November the tories gained an overwhelming victory. It was recognised at the time that the transference of power from the whigs to the tories was largely due to the ill-judged impeachment of Sacheverell. Much, however, as they owed to him, the leading tories disliked and despised him (Swift, Works, ii. 340). William Bisset (d. 1747) [q. v.], who had previously replied to his sermon (Remarks, &c., 1709), made a violent attack upon him in 1710 in a pamphlet entitled ‘The Modern Fanatick,’ which contains several rather trumpery charges. Among these he was accused of unkindness to his relatives and specially to his mother, who, after her husband's death, became an inmate of Bishop Ward's foundation for matrons at Salisbury. An answer to Bisset's pamphlet was published in 1711 by Dr. William King (1663–1712) [q. v.], probably with some help from Sacheverell; but Bisset renewed the attack. Sacheverell expected immediate preferment as a reward for his championship of the tory cause, and it was thought likely that he would receive a ‘golden prebend’ of Durham, and a rich living in the same diocese, but the bishop bestowed them elsewhere. Partly by Swift's help he obtained from Harley a small place for one of his brothers in 1712. This brother had failed in business, and Sacheverell declared that he had since then maintained him and his family.

Sacheverell's term of punishment having expired, he preached to a large concourse at St. Saviour's, Southwark, on Palm Sunday, 1713, on the ‘Christian triumph and the duty of praying for enemies,’ from Luke xxiii. 34, and sold his sermon for 100l.; it was believed that thirty thousand copies were printed (4to, 1713). On 13 April the queen presented him to the rich living of St. Andrew's, Holborn, and his acceptance of it vacated his fellowship at Magdalen. He preached before the House of Commons in St. Margaret's, Westminster, on 29 May, on ‘False notions of liberty,’ and his sermon was printed by order. In 1715 George Sacheverell, the former high sheriff of Derbyshire, left him a valuable estate at Callow in that county, and in June 1716 he married his benefactor's widow, Mary Sacheverell, who was about fourteen years his senior. He thus became a rich man. He had some quarrels with his Holborn parishioners, and notably in 1719 with William Whiston, whom he ordered not to enter his church. On 7 Jan. 1723, during a sharp frost, he fell on the stone steps in front of his house, hurting himself badly and breaking two of his ribs. He died of a complication of disorders on 5 June 1724 at his house, where he habitually resided, in the Grove, Highgate, Middlesex, and was buried in St. Andrew's, Holborn. On 26 July 1747 the sexton of that church was committed to prison for stealing his lead coffin. He left a legacy of 500l. to Bishop Atterbury. He had no children. His widow married a third husband, Charles Chambers, attorney, of London, on 19 May 1735, and died, aged 75, on 6 Sept. 1739.

Sacheverell is described by Sarah, duchess of Marlborough, as ‘an ignorant and impudent incendiary, the scorn of those who made him their tool’ (Account of her Conduct, p. 247), and by Hearne, who, though approving his sermons, had private reasons for disliking him, as ‘conceited, ignorant, impudent, a rascal, and a knave’ (Collections, iii. 65). He had a fine presence and dressed well. He was an indifferent scholar and had no care for learning (for a proof see ib. p. 376), was bold, insolent, passionate, and inordinately vain. His failings stand in a strong light, because the whigs, instead of treating him and his utterances with the contempt they deserved, forced him to appear as the champion of the church's cause, a part which, both by mind and character, he was utterly unfitted to play even respectably, yet the eager scrutiny of his enemies could find little of importance to allege against his conduct, though the charge that he used profane language when irritated seems to have been true.

A portrait is in the hall of Magdalen College; it was bequeathed to the college in 1799 by William Clements, demy, son of Sacheverell's printer (Bloxam). Bromley gives a long list of engraved portraits of Sacheverell; three are dated 1710, one of which, engraved by John Faber, the elder [q. v.], represents him with Francis Higgins (1669–1728) [q. v.], and Philip Stubbs, afterwards archdeacon of St. Albans [q. v.], as ‘three pillars of the church’ (Cat. of Engraved Portraits, p. 227). A medal was struck to commemorate Sacheverell's trial, bearing the doctor's portrait on the obverse, with inscription, H. Sach: D:D:,’ which was accompanied by two different reverses, both alike inscribed ‘is : firm : to : thee :’; but one bears a mitre for the church of England, the other the head of a pope.

[Bloxam's Presidents, &c. of St. M. Magd. Coll. Oxf. vi. 98 sq.; Hearne's Collect. i.–iii., ed. Doble (Oxf. Hist. Soc.), contains frequent notices; others from Hearne's Diary extracted by Bloxam, u.s.; Swift's Works, passim, ed. Scott, 3rd ed.; Account of family of Sacheverell; Sacheverell's Sermons; Howell's State Trials, xv. 1 sq.; Bisset's Modern Fanatick, 3 pts.; King's Vindication of Dr. S. ap. Orig. Works, ii. 179 sq.; Dr. S.'s Progress, by ‘K. J.’ (1710); Spectator, No. lvii.; White Kennett's Wisdom of Looking Backwards; Whiston's Account of Dr. S.'s Proceedings; Burnet's Own Time, v. 539 sq., vi. 9, ed. 1823; Tindal's Cont. of Rapin's Hist. iv. 149 sq.; Lecky's Hist. of England, i. 51 sq.; Stanhope's Hist. of Queen Anne's Reign, ii. 130 sq., ed. 1872; Gent. Mag. (1735) v. 275, (1747) xvii. 446, (1779) xlix. 291, 338; Halkett and Laing's Dict. of Anon. and Pseudon. Lit. An excellent bibliography of the works published by and concerning him has been compiled by Mr. Falconer Madan of Brasenose College, Oxford (8vo, 1887, privately printed at Oxford); Notes and Queries, 8th ser. v. passim, xii. 223. Besides the British Museum and Bodleian libraries, the library of Magdalen College, Oxford, contains a large collection of Sacheverell literature.]

W. H.