Thomas Tenison

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Thomas Tenison
Archbishop of Canterbury
Thomas Tenison by Robert White.jpg
Church Church of England
Diocese Canterbury
In office1695-1715
Predecessor John Tillotson
Successor William Wake
Consecration10 January 1692
by  John Tillotson
Personal details
Born(1636-09-29)29 September 1636
Cottenham, Cambridgeshire, England
Died14 December 1715(1715-12-14) (aged 79)
London, England
Nationality English
Denomination Anglican
SpouseAnne Love
Alma mater Corpus Christi College, Cambridge
Arms of Tenison: Gules, three leopard's faces or jessant de lys azure overall a bend engrailed argent. A difference of these arms was borne by Tennyson, the family of Alfred, Lord Tennyson (1809-1892) (Baron Tennyson), the poet TenisonArms.png
Arms of Tenison: Gules, three leopard's faces or jessant de lys azure overall a bend engrailed argent. A difference of these arms was borne by Tennyson, the family of Alfred, Lord Tennyson (1809-1892) (Baron Tennyson), the poet
Arms of Thomas Tenison showing arms of the See of Canterbury impaling arms of Tenison (Three leopard's faces jessant-de-lys overall a bend engrailed), imprint on front cover of a Book of Common Prayer, 1686, collection of University of Toronto ThomasTenison ArchbishopOfCanterbury Arms.jpg
Arms of Thomas Tenison showing arms of the See of Canterbury impaling arms of Tenison (Three leopard's faces jessant-de-lys overall a bend engrailed), imprint on front cover of a Book of Common Prayer, 1686, collection of University of Toronto

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.

Archbishop of Canterbury senior bishop of the Church of England

The Archbishop of Canterbury is the senior bishop and principal leader of the Church of England, the symbolic head of the worldwide Anglican Communion and the diocesan bishop of the Diocese of Canterbury. The current archbishop is Justin Welby, who was enthroned at Canterbury Cathedral on 21 March 2013. Welby is the 105th in a line which goes back more than 1400 years to Augustine of Canterbury, the "Apostle to the English", sent from Rome in the year 597. Welby succeeded Rowan Williams.



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. [2] For a short time he studied medicine, but in 1659 was privately ordained. As curate of St Andrew the Great, Cambridge from 1662, 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. [3]

Cottenham village in Cambridgeshire, England

Cottenham is a 2927 hectare civil parish centred upon a village of the same name within Cambridgeshire, England. Cottenham is one of the larger dormitory villages surrounding the city of Cambridge, located around five miles north of the city. The population of the civil parish at the 2011 Census was 6095. Cottenham is one of a number of villages that make up the historical Fen Edge region in between Cambridge and Ely, which were originally settlements on the shore of the marshes close to the city of Cambridge, then an inland port.

Cambridgeshire County of England

Cambridgeshire is a county in the East of England, bordering Lincolnshire to the north, Norfolk to the north-east, Suffolk to the east, Essex and Hertfordshire to the south, and Bedfordshire and Northamptonshire to the west. The city of Cambridge is the county town. Modern Cambridgeshire was formed in 1974 as an amalgamation of the counties of Cambridgeshire and Isle of Ely and Huntingdon and Peterborough, the former covering the historic county of Cambridgeshire and the latter covering the historic county of Huntingdonshire and the Soke of Peterborough, historically part of Northamptonshire. It contains most of the region known as Silicon Fen.

Norwich School (independent school) selective independent day school in Norwich, United Kingdom

Norwich School is a selective English independent day school in the close of Norwich Cathedral, Norwich. Among the oldest schools in the United Kingdom, it has a traceable history to 1096 as an episcopal grammar school established by Herbert de Losinga, first Bishop of Norwich. In the 16th century the school came under the control of the city of Norwich and moved to Blackfriars' Hall following a successful petition to Henry VIII. The school was refounded in 1547 in a royal charter granted by Edward VI and moved to its current site beside the cathedral in 1551. In the 19th century it became independent of the city and its classical curriculum was broadened in response to the declining demand for classical education following the Industrial Revolution.

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-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 Thomas Ken and Francis 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. [3]

Charles II of England 17th-century King of England, Ireland and Scotland

Charles II was king of England, Scotland, and Ireland. He was king of Scotland from 1649 until his deposition in 1651, and king of England, Scotland and Ireland from the restoration of the monarchy in 1660 until his death.

St Martin-in-the-Fields Church in London

St Martin-in-the-Fields is an English Anglican church at the north-east corner of Trafalgar Square in the City of Westminster, London. It is dedicated to Saint Martin of Tours. There has been a church on the site since the medieval period. The present building was constructed in a Neoclassical design by James Gibbs in 1722–1726.

Gilbert Burnet Scottish theologian and historian, and Bishop of Salisbury

Gilbert Burnet was a Scottish philosopher and historian, and Bishop of Salisbury. He was fluent in Dutch, French, Latin, Greek, and Hebrew. Burnet was highly respected as a cleric, a preacher, an academic, a writer and a historian. He was always closely associated with the Whig party, and was one of the few close friends in whom King William III confided.

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 same year. [3]

William III of England 17th-century Stadtholder, Prince of Orange and King of England, Scotland and Ireland

William III, also widely known as William of Orange, was sovereign Prince of Orange from birth, Stadtholder of Holland, Zeeland, Utrecht, Gelderland and Overijssel in the Dutch Republic from 1672 and King of England, Ireland and Scotland from 1689 until his death in 1702. As King of Scotland, he is known as William II. He is sometimes informally known in Northern Ireland and Scotland as "King Billy".

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:

Glorious Revolution 17th Century British revolution

The Glorious Revolution, also called the Revolution of 1688, refers to the November 1688 deposition and subsequent replacement of James II and VII as ruler of England, Scotland and Ireland by his daughter Mary and her Dutch husband William of Orange. The outcome of events in all three kingdoms and Europe, while the Revolution was quick and relatively bloodless, establishing the new regime took much longer and led to significant casualties. The term was first used by John Hampden in late 1689.

William Sancroft Archbishop of Canterbury

William Sancroft was the 79th Archbishop of Canterbury, and was one of the Seven Bishops imprisoned in 1688 for seditious libel against King James II, over his opposition to the king's Declaration of Indulgence.

Henry Hyde, 2nd Earl of Clarendon English noble

Henry Hyde, 2nd Earl of Clarendon, PC was an English aristocrat and politician. He held high office at the beginning of the reign of his brother-in-law, King James II.

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.

Nell Gwyn Royal mistress

Eleanor Gwyn, more commonly known as Nell Gwyn, was a prolific celebrity figure of the Restoration period. Praised by Samuel Pepys for her comic performances as one of the first actresses on the English stage, she became best known for being a long-time mistress of King Charles II of England and Scotland. Called "pretty, witty Nell" by Pepys, she has been regarded as a living embodiment of the spirit of Restoration England and has come to be considered a folk heroine, with a story echoing the rags-to-royalty tale of Cinderella. Gwyn had two sons by King Charles: Charles Beauclerk (1670–1726) and James Beauclerk (1671–1680). Charles was created Earl of Burford and later Duke of St. Albans.

Bishop of Lincoln Diocesan bishop in the Church of England

The Bishop of Lincoln is the ordinary of the Church of England Diocese of Lincoln in the Province of Canterbury.

Archbishop Tenison was one of seven Lord Justices whom King William appointed to administer the kingdom whilst he was on campaign in Europe. Lord Justices of England.jpg
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. [3] 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, as it had weakened the authority of the Crown. [4]

Under Queen Anne

Along with Gilbert 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 : [5] 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 when she appointed 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. [6]

Increasingly he lost influence to John Sharp, Archbishop of York, whom the Queen found far more congenial. [7] He was a commissioner for the Union with Scotland in 1706; but in the last years of the Queen's reign was he very much a secondary political figure, and from September 1710, though he was still nominally a member of the Cabinet, ceased to attend its meetings. [8] A strong supporter of the Hanoverian succession, who shocked many by referring to Anne's death as a blessing, [9] he was one of three officers of state to whom, on the death of Anne, was entrusted the duty of appointing a regent till the arrival of George I, whom he crowned on 20 October 1714. For the last time at the coronation of an English monarch, the Archbishop asked if the people accepted their new King: the witty Catherine Sedley, former 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. [10] Edward Tenison (1673–1735) LL.B (Cantab.), his cousin, became Bishop of Ossory (Ireland) (1730/1731-1735). [11] [12] Another relative, Richard Tennison (1642-1705), became Bishop of Meath. Thomas is said to have advanced Richard in his career: in his will he left legacies to all of Richard's five sons.

In appearance he was described as a large, brawny, "hulking" figure, very strong when young but afflicted with gout in later life. [13]


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 ArmsOfDenysOfSiston.jpg
Arms of Denys of Gloucestershire, late 13th century

These arms are a difference, or variant, of the mediaeval arms of the family of Denys of Siston, Gloucestershire, and may have been adopted by the Tenison family because its name signifies "Denys's or Denis's son". The arms were originally those of the Norman de Cantilupe family, whose feudal tenants the Denys family probably were in connection with Candleston Castle in Glamorgan. 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.

Suspected discovery of his coffin

In 2016, during the refurbishment of the Garden Museum, [14] which is housed at the medieval church of St Mary-at-Lambeth, [15] 30 lead coffins were found; one with an archbishop's red and gold mitre on top of it. [16] Two archbishops were identified from nameplates on their coffins; with church records revealing that a further three archbishops, including Tenison, were likely to be buried in the vault. [17]

See also


  1. Burkes General Armory, 1884
  2. "Tenison, Thomas (TNY653T)". A Cambridge Alumni Database. University of Cambridge.
  3. 1 2 3 4 Chisholm 1911.
  4. Gregg, Edward Queen Anne Yale University Press 1980 p.102
  5. Gregg p.206
  6. Somerset, Anne Queen Anne Harper Press 2102 p.224
  7. Gregg p.146
  8. Gregg p.141
  9. Somerset p.540
  10. "Tenison, Thomas"  . Dictionary of National Biography . London: Smith, Elder & Co. 1885–1900.
  11. "Tenison, Edward"  . Dictionary of National Biography . London: Smith, Elder & Co. 1885–1900.
  12. George Stanhope, A Letter from the Prolocutor to the Reverend Dr. Edward Tenison, Archdeacon of Carmarthen, 1718
  13. Somerset p.224
  14. Museum web-site
  15. Church of St Mary, Lambeth British History on-line
  16. Times on-line
  17. "Remains of five 'lost' Archbishops of Canterbury found". BBC. 16 April 2017.

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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