William Henry Bliss

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William Henry Bliss (26 April 1835 – 8 March 1911) was an English scholar and Anglican convert to Catholicism.

Church of England Anglican state church of England

The Church of England is the established church of England. The Archbishop of Canterbury is the most senior cleric, although the monarch is the supreme governor. The Church of England is also the mother church of the international Anglican Communion. It traces its history to the Christian church recorded as existing in the Roman province of Britain by the third century, and to the 6th-century Gregorian mission to Kent led by Augustine of Canterbury.


Early life and education

Bliss was born in Newton St Loe, Bath, Somerset. [1] He was the son of Rev. William Bliss and Jane Monck (born Jane Bridges). Bliss was the grandson of Dr John Bliss M.D., a physician who specialised in the treatment of gout. The family owned a tweed mill (Bliss Tweed Mill) at Chipping Norton, Oxfordshire.

Newton St Loe village in the United Kingdom

Newton St Loe is a small Somerset village and civil parish located between Bath and Bristol in England. The majority of the village is owned by the Duchy of Cornwall. The parish has a population of 681.

Bath, Somerset City in Somerset, England

Bath is the largest city in the ceremonial county of Somerset, England, known for its Roman-built baths. In 2011, the population was 88,859. Bath is in the valley of the River Avon, 97 miles (156 km) west of London and 11 miles (18 km) south-east of Bristol. The city became a World Heritage site in 1987.

A Doctor of Medicine is a medical degree, the meaning of which varies between different jurisdictions. In the United States, Canada and some other countries, the MD denotes a professional graduate degree awarded upon graduation from medical school. In the United Kingdom, Ireland and other countries, the MD is a research doctorate, higher doctorate, honorary doctorate or applied clinical degree restricted to those who already hold a professional degree in medicine; in those countries, the equivalent professional degree is typically titled Bachelor of Medicine, Bachelor of Surgery (MBBS).

He was educated at Winchester from 1847 to 1852. He then went up to Magdalen College, Oxford, graduating with a Bachelor of Arts in 1859 (receiving his M.A. in 1863. In 1868 he was awarded a BCL. [2]

Winchester College school in Winchester, Hampshire, England

Winchester College is an independent boarding school for boys in the British public school tradition, situated in Winchester, Hampshire. It has existed in its present location for over 600 years. It is the oldest of the original seven English public schools defined by the Clarendon Commission and regulated by the Public Schools Act 1868.

Magdalen College, Oxford constituent college of the University of Oxford in England

Magdalen College is one of the wealthiest constituent colleges of the University of Oxford, with an estimated financial endowment of £273 million as of 2018. Magdalen stands next to the River Cherwell and has within its grounds a deer park and Addison's Walk. The large, square Magdalen Tower is an Oxford landmark, and it is a tradition, dating to the days of Henry VII, that the college choir sings from the top of it at 6 a.m. on May Morning.

In 1854, he edited The Parson .

On 4 May 1859 he married Mary Jane Wray, daughter of Rev. Cyril Wray of St. Martin's, Liverpool. Over twenty years they were to have eleven children.


Bliss suffered from a stammer. He therefore spent more than the usual time as a deacon. He was finally ordained by the Church of England in 1865. [2] He served as Curate of Honington for four years from 1858, then moved to St James, Plymouth until 1865 and took the Vicarage of North Hinksey on the outskirts of Oxford in 1866.

Deacon ministry in the Christian Church

A deacon is a member of the diaconate, an office in Christian churches that is generally associated with service of some kind, but which varies among theological and denominational traditions. Some Christian churches, such as the Catholic Church, the Eastern Orthodox Church and the Anglican church, view the diaconate as part of the clerical state; in others, the deacon remains a layperson.

Ordination is the process by which individuals are consecrated, that is, set apart as clergy to perform various religious rites and ceremonies. The process and ceremonies of ordination vary by religion and denomination. One who is in preparation for, or who is undergoing the process of ordination is sometimes called an ordinand. The liturgy used at an ordination is sometimes referred to as an ordination.

Curate person who is invested with the care or cure (cura) of souls of a parish

A curate is a person who is invested with the care or cure (cura) of souls of a parish. In this sense, "curate" correctly means a parish priest; but in English-speaking countries the term curate is commonly used to describe clergy who are assistants to the parish priest. The duties or office of a curate are called a curacy.

In 1867 Bliss published his first major work, The Canons of the First Four General Councils, in Greek and English. It warranted a second edition in 1869.

Ancient Greek Version of the Greek language used from roughly the 9th century BCE to the 6th century CE

The Ancient Greek language includes the forms of Greek used in Ancient Greece and the ancient world from around the 9th century BCE to the 6th century CE. It is often roughly divided into the Archaic period, Classical period, and Hellenistic period. It is antedated in the second millennium BCE by Mycenaean Greek and succeeded by medieval Greek.

English language West Germanic language

English is a West Germanic language that was first spoken in early medieval England and eventually became a global lingua franca. It is named after the Angles, one of the Germanic tribes that migrated to the area of Great Britain that later took their name, as England. Both names derive from Anglia, a peninsula in the Baltic Sea. The language is closely related to Frisian and Low Saxon, and its vocabulary has been significantly influenced by other Germanic languages, particularly Norse, and to a greater extent by Latin and French.

Contact with Catholicism

Bliss appeared to have very good prospects within the established church. He was the son of a clergyman, was blessed with a good education and had very useful contacts. He was being published. However, at Oxford he came into contact with the Oxford Movement. This group of High Churchmen originally attempted to show that the Church of England was a direct descendant of the Church established by the apostles. Many members of the group converted to Catholicism, including John Henry Newman. Bliss became curate to his uncle James at Plymouth. His uncle was a leading Anglo-Catholic.

Bliss was increasingly turning towards Catholic theology and doubting the historical legitimacy of the Church of England. In 1869 he followed Newman into the Roman Catholic faith. [3] He then secured the position of Keeper of Periodicals at the Bodleian Library in Oxford.

Work in the Vatican

In 1877 the Public Record Office asked Bliss to go to Rome to do research in the Vatican Archives on its behalf. [2] He accepted the offer and spent most of his time searching the mediaeval Papal Registers in order to find all the dealings between the Papacy and Great Britain and Ireland. This job required Bliss to spend nine months of each year in Rome and this became Bliss’ habit until he died at the Via Delphini in 1911. His wife raised the children in England and remained an Anglican.

At first the Papal bureaucrats were suspicious of an Englishmen. [4] He won them over and by 1886 he was the English Tutor to Victor Emmanuel, heir to the Italian crown. He enjoyed cordial relations with the Italian Royal family. [5]

In the Vatican Bliss produced a series called the Calendar of The Entries in the Papal Registers Relating to British Isles Volumes I and II. These were entirely Bliss's work. He edited volumes III, IV, and V with collaborators.

Other work

Bliss also studied the transcripts of manuscripts in Milan and Stockholm. His work from these cities is still available in the Public Record Office. Overall, his output is an important source of material for mediaeval historians.

Bliss is buried in Rome. His papers are kept at Downside Abbey. [6]


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  1. "Eminent Blisses". Bliss Family History Society. Retrieved 20 January 2011.
  2. 1 2 3 "The Late Mr W. H. Bliss from The Atheneum". The Tablet. Retrieved 21 April 2014.
  3. "Tales from God's Acre: part 40 Thomas 2". St Leonard's Sunningwell. Retrieved 21 April 2014.
  4. Chadwick, Owen (1978). Catholicism and History: The Opening of the Vatican Archives. CUP Archive. pp. 86–88. ISBN   9780521217088.
  5. "William Henry Bliss BCL DD". Bliss Family History Society. Retrieved 21 April 2014.
  6. "Downside Abbey Archives" (PDF). National Archives. p. 224. Retrieved 21 April 2014.
  7. "Public Record Office: Rome Archives Series I". National Archives. Retrieved 21 April 2014.
  8. W. H. Bliss and C. Johnson (editors) (1897). "Regesta 138: 1344-1345". Calendar of Papal Registers Relating to Great Britain and Ireland, Volume 3: 1342-1362. Institute of Historical Research. Retrieved 21 April 2014.