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Thomas Tenison


Thomas Tenison

Thomas Tenison
Archbishop of Canterbury
Installed 1695
Term ended 14 December 1715
Predecessor John Tillotson
Successor William Wake
Personal details
Born 29 September 1636
Cottenham, Cambridgeshire, England
Died 14 December 1715
London, England

Thomas Tenison (29 September 1636 – 14 December 1715) was an English church leader, Archbishop of Canterbury from 1694 until his death. During his primacy, he crowned two British monarchs.


  • Life 1
  • Archbishop of Canterbury 2
  • Under Queen Anne 3
  • Family 4
  • Armorials 5
    • Origin 5.1
  • See also 6
  • References 7
  • External links 8


He was born at Cottenham, Cambridgeshire, the son and grandson of Anglican clergymen, who were both named John Tenison; his mother was Mercy Dowsing. He was educated at Norwich School, going on to Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, as a scholar on Archbishop Matthew Parker's foundation. He graduated in 1657, and was chosen fellow in 1659.[1] For a short time he studied medicine, but in 1659 was privately ordained. As vicar of St Andrew-the-Great, Cambridge, he set an example by his devoted attention to the sufferers from the plague. In 1667 he was presented to the living of Holywell-cum-Needingworth, Huntingdonshire, by the Earl of Manchester, to whose son he had been tutor, and in 1670 to that of St Peter Mancroft, Norwich.

In 1680 he received the degree of Doctor of Divinity, and was presented by King Charles II to the important London church of St Martin's-in-the-Fields. Tenison, according to Gilbert Burnet, "endowed schools including Archbishop Tenison's School, Lambeth, founded in 1685 and Archbishop Tenison's School, Croydon, founded in 1714, set up a public library, and kept many curates to assist him in his indefatigable labours". Being a strenuous opponent of the Church of Rome, and "Whitehall lying within that parish, he stood as in the front of the battle all King James's reign". In 1678, in a Discourse of Idolatry, he had condemned the heathenish idolatry practised in the Church of Rome, and in a sermon which he published in 1681 on Discretion in Giving Alms was attacked by Andrew Poulton, head of the Jesuits in the Savoy. Tenison's reputation as an enemy of Romanism led the Duke of Monmouth to send for him before his execution in 1685, when Bishops Ken and Turner refused to administer holy communion; but, although Tenison spoke to him in "a softer and less peremptory manner" than the two bishops, he was, like them, not satisfied with the sufficiency of Monmouth's penitence.

Under King William III, Tenison was in 1689 named a member of the ecclesiastical commission appointed to prepare matters towards a reconciliation of the Dissenters, the revision of the liturgy being specially entrusted to him. A sermon he preached on the commission was published the sam year.

He strongly supported, at least in public, the Glorious Revolution, though not without some private misgivings, especially concerning the ejection of Archbishop William Sancroft and the other "non-juring" bishops. Henry Hyde, 2nd Earl of Clarendon in his diary records some frank remarks made by Tenison on this subject at a dinner party in 1691:

"That there had been irregularities in our settlement; that it was wished that things had been otherwise, but that we were now to make the best of it, and support this government as it was, for fear of a worse."

He preached a funeral sermon for Nell Gwyn in 1687, in which he represented her as truly penitent – a charitable judgment that did not meet with universal approval. The general liberality of Tenison's religious views won him royal favour, and, after being made Bishop of Lincoln in 1691, he was promoted to Archbishop of Canterbury in December 1694.

Archbishop Tenison was one of seven Lord Justices whom King William appointed to administer the kingdom whilst he was on campaign in Europe.

Archbishop of Canterbury

He attended Queen Mary during her last illness and preached her funeral sermon in Westminster Abbey. When William in 1695 went to take command of the army in the Netherlands, Tenison was appointed one of the seven lords justices to whom his authority was delegated. After Mary's death, Tenison was one of those who persuaded the King that his long and bitter quarrel with her sister Anne must be ended.[2]

Under Queen Anne

Along with Burnet he attended the King on his deathbed. He crowned William's successor, Queen Anne, but during her reign was in very little favour at court :[3] the Queen thought that he inclined too much to the Low Church, and clashed repeatedly with him over her sole right to appoint bishops. She entirely ignored his wishes in appointing Sir Jonathan Trelawny, 3rd Baronet, as Bishop of Winchester: when he tried to remonstrate, the Queen cut him short with the cold remark that "the matter was decided." Only with great difficulty did he persuade her to appoint his nominee William Wake, as Bishop of Lincoln.[4]

Increasingly he lost influence to Catherine Sedley, mistress of James II, remarked "Does the old fool think we will say no?" Tenison died in London a year later. He was instrumental in the last years of his life in the literary executorship of Sir Thomas Browne's manuscript writings known as Christian Morals.


He married Anne, daughter of Richard Love; but died without issue.[8] Edward Tenison (1673–1735) LL.B (Cantab.), his cousin, became Bishop of Ossory (Ireland) (1730/1731-1735).[9][10]

In appearance he was a large, brawny, "hulking" figure, very strong when young but afflicted with gout in later life.[11]


The personal coat of arms of Archbishop Tenison consist of the arms of the see of Canterbury impaled with the Tenison family arms. The former, placed on the dexter side of honour, are blazoned as: Azure, an archiepiscopal cross in pale or surmounted by a pall proper charged with four crosses patee fitchee sable. The arms of Tenison, placed on the sinister side of the escutcheon are blazoned as: Gules, a bend engrailed argent voided azure, between three leopard's faces or jessant-de-lys azure. In standard English: a red field bearing a white (or silver) diagonal band with scalloped edges, and a narrower blue band running down its centre. This lies between three gold heraldic lion's faces, each of which is pierced by a fleur-de-lys entering through the mouth.


Arms of Denys of Gloucestershire, late 13th century

These arms are a St Thomas Cantilupe (d.1282), bishop of Hereford, gave a reversed (i.e. upside down) version of the Cantilupe arms to the see of Hereford, which uses them to this day. A version of the Denys arms was also adopted by the family of the poet laureate Alfred, Lord Tennyson, not known to have been a descendant of Archbishop Thomas Tenison.

See also


  1. ^
  2. ^ Gregg, Edward Queen Anne Yale University Press 1980 p.102
  3. ^ Gregg p.206
  4. ^ Somerset, Anne Queen Anne Harper Press 2102 p.224
  5. ^ Gregg p.146
  6. ^ Gregg p.141
  7. ^ Somerset p.540
  8. ^  
  9. ^  
  10. ^ George Stanhope, A Letter from the Prolocutor to the Reverend Dr. Edward Tenison, Archdeacon of Carmarthen, 1718
  11. ^ Somerset p.224
  • Public Domain This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain

External links

  • Archbishop Tenison's papers at Lambeth Palace Library
Church of England titles
Preceded by
Thomas Barlow
Bishop of Lincoln
Succeeded by
James Gardiner
Preceded by
John Tillotson
Archbishop of Canterbury
Succeeded by
William Wake
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