John VII Gilbert

John Gilbert (1693-1761) was Archbishop of York from 1757 to 1761. [M. E. Clayton, [http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/10692 ‘Gilbert, John (1693–1761)’] , "Oxford Dictionary of National Biography", Oxford University Press, 2004]

Origins and education

Gilbert was the son of John Gilbert, fellow of Wadham College, Oxford, vicar of St. Andrew's, Plymouth, and prebendary of Exeter, who died in 1722. He was educated at Trinity College, Oxford, where he graduated B.A. on 5 May 1713. He proceeded M.A. from Merton College on 1 February 1717-18.

Ecclesiastical preferment

Owing to his connection with the cathedral of Exeter and his aristocratic connections, he began early to climb the ladder of preferment. On 1 August 1721 he was appointed to the chapter living of Ashburton; on 4 January 1722-3 he succeeded to the prebendal stall vacated by his father's death; on 4 June 1724 he was appointed subdean of Exeter, which he vacated on his installation to the deanery, on 27 December 1726; on 8 January 1724 he was granted the degree of LL.D. at Lambeth. In January 1726 he received from the crown a canonry at Christ Church, which he held in commendam with the bishopric of Llandaff, to which he was consecrated on 28 December 1740. In 1749 he was translated to Salisbury. In 1750 he succeeded Bishop Joseph Butler as Clerk of the Closet, and in 1757 the archiepiscopate of York, to which the office of Lord High Almoner was added, crowned his long series of ecclesiastical preferments.

Archbishop of York

Gilbert is regarded as having done little honour to the primacy. His health had already begun to break, and he rather languished than lived '’through a pontificate of four years, when he sank under a complication of infirmities” [ W. Dickinson Rastall, "History of Southwell" (1787), p. 328] . He died at Twickenham on 9 August 1761, aged 63, and was buried in a vault in Grosvenor Chapel, South Audley Street. Gilbert seems to have possessed few qualifications to justify his high promotion in the church. He was neither a scholar nor a theologian. Nor were these deficiencies compensated by graces of character. A friendly witness, Bishop Newton, speaks of his being regarded as 'somewhat haughty'; while Horace Walpole, whose pen when writing of the clergy is always dipped in gall, describes him as 'composed of that common mixture of ignorance, meanness, and arrogance’. John Newton, William Cowper's friend, when seeking to obtain ordination from him, found him 'inflexible in supporting the rules and canons of the church'. His imperious character is illustrated by his refusal to allow the civic mace to be carried before the mayor of Salisbury in processions within the cathedral precincts, for which he claimed a separate jurisdiction, disobedience to which, it is said, caused an unseemly personal scuffle between him and the mace-bearer. We learn from Bishop Newton that he was the first prelate to introduce at confirmations the practice, now passing away, of the bishop laying his hands on each candidate at the altar rails, and then retiring and solemnly pronouncing the prayer once for the whole number. This mode was first observed at St. Mary's Church, Nottingham; it ‘commanded attention, and raised devotion,' and before long became the regular manner of administering the rite.

Family and posterity

Gilbert married Margaret Sherard, sister of Philip Sherard, 2nd Earl of Harborough, and daughter of Bennet Sherard, of Whissendine, by Dorothy, daughter of Henry Fairfax, 5th Lord Fairfax of Cameron, who predeceased him. His only child Emma was married on 6 Aug. 1761 to George, third baron Mount-Edgcumbe, at her father's house at Twickenham, three days before his death. Gilbert's only publications were occasional sermons. There are portraits of him, in the robes of the chancellor of the Order of the Garter.

References


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