Henry Sacheverell’s Progress
I was intrigued to find, within the old local studies manuscript collection, notes regarding “Dr Henry Sacheverell’s progresses from London to Sellatyn and from Sellatyn to Shrewsbury, Bridgnorth, Ludlow, 1710” ref 6001/4072. A “progress” is usually a term associated with the monarch and a custom which would have fallen out of practice by the 18th century, and why make a progress from London to Sellatyn?
This catalogue entry has led me to discover a story of religious schisms, political rivalries, impeachment and riots.
Henry Sacheverell was a high church, Anglican and Tory. He had been born in Wiltshire and was educated at Marlborough Grammar School and Magdalen College, Oxford where he was a fellow from 1701. The Bishop of Oxford ordained him in 1695, but there seems to have been some reluctance in granting him a parish. After a three-day examination, the Bishop of Lichfield nominated him to the living at Cannock in 1697. He continued his academic career becoming College Librarian in 1703; he was awarded a Doctorate of Divinity in 1708 and became Bursar in 1709.
In 1709 he became chaplain at St Saviour’s, Southwark, and was appointed by the new Tory, Lord Mayor of London to deliver the annual sermon to commemorate the failure of the Gunpowder Plot on 5th November at St Paul’s Cathedral. Sacheverell took this opportunity to rail against the Whigs for their support for nonconformist churches and against liberals in the Church of England for their tolerance of dissenters. In his sermon entitled The Perils of False Brethren, in Church, and State he compared the Gunpowder plot with the execution of Charles I. He exhorting Anglicans to close ranks, to present “an army of banners to our enemies” and hope that the false brethren “would throw off the mask, entirely quit the Church of which they are no true members”.
Sacheverell courted further controversy when, later that month, he privately publishing the sermon after it had been banned. On the last Sunday in November he gave another sermon to a packed church, with crowds outside unable to get in. This was equally uncompromising and prompted the Whig government to take action and draw up articles of impeachment for high crimes and misdemeanours against him.
The trial began in Westminster Hall on 27 February 1710. The Whigs wanted to make an example of Sacheverell, but they had misjudged the public mood. His sermon had gone into a second edition and he was viewed by many, tired of the Whig government and their war with France, as the saviour of the Church of England. Sacheverell made a vigorous defence, and although he was found guilty, his sentence could be considered lenient. He was prevented from preaching for three years and his sermons were ordered to be burned. To the crowds outside he was seen as a martyr and Sacheverell became a rallying cry for mobs attacking dissenting meetinghouses.
Despite his being banned from preaching, Robert Lloyd, Shropshire MP and a former pupil, gave Sacheverrell the living at Selattyn. If the intention had been to provide him a quiet backwater to wait out his suspension, Sacheverell was having none of it. His “progress” there during June and July 1710 became a spectacle that further boosted his aggrandisement.
The manuscript notes, ref 6001/4072, are copies of letters written by a member of his entourage. They give accounts of civic receptions and the lavish hospitality shown to them, along with constant reference to the Doctor’s humility.
The route taken is not completely clear but they left London with 66 horse and visited, Uxbridge, Oxford, Banbury and Coventry as well as country estates of their supporters across the Midlands. Their arrival was not universally well received and this may have influenced the itinerary (and the author’s record).
The group left Lord Craven’s estate and approached Shropshire via Wrexham “which being near the Doctor’s new living, made unusual preparations to entertain us, and burn’d effigies of Mr Hoadly etc in the Bon-fires which were lighted on our going throught the Town, an unchristian practice which the Doctor abhor’d and which made him make best of his way out of it to Selatin, the place which his Rectory liesin, and within a mile of which, we were met by upwards of 300 of the best men on that side of the county”.
It was probably prudent that they moved swiftly on as Wrexham had been the scene of rioting on 24 March, following Sacheverell’s light sentence. Bonfires had also been lit on this occasion and a mob, armed with staves and to the beat of a drum, had attacked the Meeting House and broken windows of the homes of dissenters.
Sacheverell continued his return journey to Oxford in the same manner. When approaching Shrewsbury, he was met at Montford Bridge by “all the neighbouring Gentlemen” including members of the Kynaston, Corbett, Owen and Mytton families and escorted into town with over 5000 horse, where he was “nobly entertained”.
The author refutes the allegation that they paraded about the country to influence the ensuing elections. However, this assertion is somewhat undermined by his following description of their arrival at Bridgnorth “we were met by one of the Candidates for the next parliament with about 3500 horse, and near 3000 foot with white[?] knots edg’d with gold, and three leaves of gilt Laurel in their Hats, the Hedges two miles from the town being draped with the finest flowers, and lin’d with people; and the two steeples dress’d out with fifty pounds worth of flags and colours”.
An election was held later that year and the Tory party won by a landslide. Sacheverell resumed his preaching in 1713 amid rising anxiety as to the succession of Queen Anne, who had no surviving children. Her death and the accession of George I led to further periods of unrest and the Jacobite rebellion in 1715. The Sacheverell riots and subsequent disturbances led to the drafting of the 1714 Riot Act, “An Act for Preventing Tumults and Riotous Assemblies, and for the more speedy and effectual Punishing the Rioters“. The Act allowed local officials to read a proclamation ordering illegally assembled groups of twelve people or more to disperse. This legislation led to the common phrase “to read the Riot Act” and was not repealed until 1973.
References and further reading
- Dr Henry Sacheverell’s progresses from London to Sellatyn and from Sellatyn to Shrewsbury, Bridgnorth, Ludlow. 1710. Shropshire Archives ref 6001/4072
- The Perils of False Brethren, both in Church, and State, 1709. Shropshire Archives ref D 89.
- Henry Sacheverell – Wikipedia
- Wrexham Riots Early Modern Crime and the Law (sharonhoward.org)