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Watson, Thomas (1637-1717) (DNB00)


WATSON, THOMAS (1637–1717), deprived bishop of St. David's, the son of John Watson, a ‘seaman,’ was born at North Ferriby, near Hull, on 1 March 1636–7. He was educated at the grammar school at Hull and was admitted to St. John's College, Cambridge, on 25 May 1655, whence he graduated M.A. in 1662, B.D. in 1669, and D.D. in 1675. He was admitted a fellow of his college on 10 April 1660. He was also presented to the rectory of Burrough Green in Cambridgeshire, and in 1678 exerted himself in the parliamentary elections for the county in favour of the court candidate; in the following year he was made a justice of the peace. On 26 June 1687 he was consecrated at Lambeth bishop of St. David's, succeeding John Lloyd (1638–1687) [q. v.]

Watson was a strong supporter of James II's policy, and, according to Wood, owed his his advancement to the recommendation of Henry Jermyn, baron Dover [q. v.], though his enemies asserted that he obtained it by purchase. After his consecration Watson did not abate his zeal, and strenuously promoted the reading of the Declaration of Indulgence in his diocese in 1688. At the revolution he was excepted from the act of indemnity, was attacked at Burrough Green by the rabble of the neighbourhood, was brought a prisoner to Cambridge, and was rescued by the scholars of the university. The strength of his opinions was not, however, to be moderated by fear of violence. He sympathised ardently with the nonjurors; and it was alleged, perhaps without truth, that he ordained many persons without tendering them the oaths. In 1692 he voted consistently against the government in the House of Lords, and in 1696, after the detection of the assassination plot, he refused to join the association to defend William and Mary from such attempts, because membership involved a declaration that William was ‘rightful and lawful’ king. In 1694 he announced his intention of insisting on the residence of his chancellor, residentiary canons, and beneficed clergy who had been lax in fulfilling the duties of their positions. This measure, though justly conceived, was somewhat abruptly announced, and Watson was probably influenced by the knowledge that whig opinions were prevalent among his clergy. It was also believed that he intended removing from his office his registrar, Robert Lucy, the son of William Lucy [q. v.], a former bishop of the see. In alarm Lucy and others of the clergy procured an inhibition from the archbishop, John Tillotson [q. v.], and Watson was suspended from his office on 21 Aug. 1694 while a commission inquired into the state of his see (Luttrell, Brief Relation, 1857, iii. 347, 360). After the termination of the commission's researches, however, Watson undauntedly continued his endeavour to get rid of Lucy, and in self-defence Lucy brought charges of simony and maladministration against him. In October 1695, in answer to a citation, Watson appeared before Thomas Tenison [q. v.] and six coadjutor-bishops and pleaded his privilege of peerage (ib. iii. 541, 542). This course arrested proceedings until 20 March 1695–6, when he agreed to waive his privilege (ib. iv. 79, 383). In a further suit by Lucy for the recovery of some of his fees, the lords decided on 23 May 1698 that Watson had no privilege. On his trial in the ecclesiastical court it was proved that Watson had let out to another clergyman, William Brooks, his rectory of Burrough Green, which he had retained in commendam, and that he had appointed his nephew, John Medley, to the archdeaconry of St. David's, reserving most of the emoluments for himself. In defence it was shown that Brooks had Burrough Green on very favourable terms, and that Medley was indebted to his uncle for sums of money advanced upon bond to pay for his education and for the support of his mother and sisters. Watson was, however, found guilty of simony, and deprived. The original deed of deprivation is in the Lambeth Library. One of the coadjutors, Thomas Sprat [q. v.], refused to concur in the sentence because he regarded the proceedings as ultra vires. He was willing that Watson should be suspended, but did not think the archbishop competent to deprive him. Sprat's position is set forth by an anonymous writer in ‘A Letter to a Person of Quality concerning the Archbishop of Canterbury's Sentence of Deprivation against the Bishop of St. David's’ (London, 1699, 4to), and in Burnet's ‘Letter to a Member of the House of Commons,’ published without date; both are in the British Museum Library.

Watson refused to admit the validity of the sentence, which was confirmed by the court of delegates on 23 Feb. 1699–1700, and continued to take his seat in the House of Lords (ib. iii. 584, 621). He at first attempted to resume his privilege of peerage; but, the lords declaring on 6 Dec. 1699 that he could not do so after voluntarily waiving it, he adopted Sprat's contention that the archbishop was incompetent to deprive a bishop. This point, however, was decided against him by the lords on 2 March 1699–1700, although on 8 March they requested the crown not to fill the see of St. David's immediately. On 4 May 1701 Watson was excommunicated for contumacy, and on 30 June 1702 was arrested on a writ for 1,000l., his costs in the suit (ib. v. 49, 189). In November 1703 the court of exchequer gave judgment that he was justly deprived of the temporalities of the see, and on 23 Jan. 1704–5 the lords finally declared the see vacant by rejecting a petition of Watson in connection with the proceedings in the court of exchequer (ib. v. 308, 362, 501, 509, 511). He was succeeded in the see of St. David's in March 1704–5 by George Bull [q. v.] He retired to his seat at Wilbraham, near Cambridge, where he died on 3 June 1717. He was buried in the chancel of the parish church under the south wall, but without any service, as he was still excommunicated. He was married, his wife's christian name being Johanna. He was an intimate friend of Thomas Baker (1656–1740) [q. v.], whom he wished to make his chaplain (Nichols, Lit. Anecd. v. 107). During his lifetime he bestowed many benefactions on St. John's College, including the advowson of the three livings of Fulbourn St. Vigors, and Brinkley in Cambridgeshire, and Brandesburton, near Beverley in Yorkshire. He also founded a hospital at Hull, which was further endowed by his brother, William Watson.

Many points in Watson's conduct during his tenure of the see of St. David's were undoubtedly discreditable, and his general character was painted in the blackest colours by his enemies. It is said that when his nephew, Medley, blundered while conducting the service in the cathedral, Watson scandalised the congregation with ‘two loud God dammes.’ Much of the evidence on which the charge of simony was based was of a questionable character, and the court, in which Burnet was a coadjutor, displayed too much party feeling to allow confidence in the impartiality of its findings. The different treatment meted out to the Jacobite Watson and the whig Edward Jones (1641–1703) [q. v.], bishop of Llandaff, was very remarkable. Jones was clearly convicted of entering into simoniacal contracts, more heinous than any of those charged against Watson, but his only punishment was suspension for less than a year. Burnet casuistically defended the inconsistency by saying that, while Watson was convicted of simony, Jones was only found guilty of simoniacal practices; for Watson took bribes himself, while Jones received them through his wife. Shippen remarked that Archbishop Tenison

did in either case injustice show,
Here saved a friend, there triumphed o'er a foe.

(Faction Display'd, 1704, p. 5).

[Baker's Hist. of St. John's College, Cambridge, ed. Mayor, 1869, pp. 275–6, 697–8; Salmon's Lives of the English Bishops from the Restauration to the Revolution, 1723, pp. 244–6; Patrick's Works, ix. 547, 548; Godwin, De Præsulibus Angliæ Commentarius, ed. Richardson, 1743, p. 588; Gent. Mag. 1790, i. 321–3, 404–8, 413, 516, 616; Vernon Letters, ed. James, 1841, ii. 334, 338, 376; Lords' Journals; Wood's Athenæ Oxon. ed. Bliss, iv. 870; Whiston's Memoirs, p. 23; Burnet's Hist. of his Own Times, 1823, iv. 405–7, 448–50, v. 184–5; Masters's Memoirs of Baker, 1784, pp. 3–5, 9–14; Evelyn's Diary, ed. Bray, ii. 345, 354; Birch's Life of Tillotson, 1753, pp. 229, 230–2; Notes and Queries, 1st ser. vii. 365; Raymond's Reports of Cases in the King's Bench and Common Pleas, 1765, i. 447, 539; Howell's State Trials, xiv. 447–71; Brit. Mus. Add. MSS. 5819 f. 195, 5821 f. 40, 5831 ff. 148–50, 208–17, 5836 f. 16, 5841 ff. 7–17. The evidence on which Watson was condemned is minutely discussed in A Summary View of the Articles Exhibited against the late Bishop of St. David's, London, 1701, 8vo, written in support of the archbishop's action, and in a reply entitled A Large Review of the Summary View, 1702, 4to.]

E. I. C.