Thomas Barlow (bishop)

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Thomas Barlow, librarian.jpg
Monument to Thomas Barlow, St Mary's Church, Buckden, Cambridgeshire

Thomas Barlow (1608/9[1] – 8 October 1691) was an English academic and clergyman, who became Provost of The Queen's College, Oxford, and Bishop of Lincoln. He was seen in his own times and by Edmund Venables in the Dictionary of National Biography to have been a trimmer (conforming politically for the sake of advancement), a reputation mixed in with his academic and other writings on casuistry, his views were Calvinist and strongly anti-Catholic, and he was among the last English bishops to dub the Pope Antichrist.[2] He worked in the 1660s for "comprehension" of nonconformists, but supported the crackdown of the mid-1680s, and declared loyalty to James II of England on his accession, having strongly supported the Exclusion Bill, which would have denied it to him.[3]

Early life[edit]

He was the son of Richard Barlow of Long-gill in the parish of Orton, Eden in Westmorland (now Cumbria), and was educated at the grammar school at Appleby. In his 17th year he entered Queen's College, Oxford, as a servitor, rising to be a tabarder (scholar), taking his BA degree in 1630 and his MA in 1633, when he was elected a fellow of his college. In 1635 he was appointed metaphysical reader to the university, and was regarded as a master of casuistry, logic, and philosophy. One of his pupils was John Owen.[3]

At Oxford he associated with Robert Sanderson, and particularly Robert Boyle, who made Oxford his chief residence from 1654 to 1668. Barlow was a learned Calvinist who opposed Jeremy Taylor and George Bull, and with Thomas Tully was one of the guardians in Interregnum Oxford of acceptable orthodoxy. On the death of John Rouse, Barlow was elected to the librarianship of the Bodleian on 6 April 1652, a post which he held until he succeeded to the Lady Margaret professorship in 1660, he favoured scholars (Anthony à Wood, Anthony Horneck whom he had appointed as chaplain in Queen's, and Thomas Fuller, and was hospitable to Christopher Davenport. He spoke of infant baptism in a letter written to John Tombes, which later affected his prospect of preferment.[3]

He retained his fellowship in 1648, with support from John Selden and his former pupil John Owen, he contributed anonymously a tract on the parliamentary visitation of Oxford of 1648.[4] He became Provost of his college in 1657. In 1658 he brought tactful support to Sanderson on behalf of Boyle.[3]

Under Charles II[edit]

On the Restoration, Barlow was one of the commissioners for restoring the members of the university who had been ejected in 1648, and for the expulsion of the intruders. On behalf of John Owen, molested for preaching in his own house, he mediated with Edward Hyde, the lord chancellor. Henry Wilkinson was removed as Lady Margaret professor of divinity and Barlow took his place, on 25 September 1660. A few days before, on 1 September, he had taken his degree of D.D., one of a batch of loyalists created doctors by royal mandate. In 1661, on the death of Barton Holiday, Barlow was appointed archdeacon of Oxford;[5] but there was delay caused a dispute between him and Thomas Lamplugh, ultimately decided in Barlow's favour, and he was not installed till 13 June 1664. Barlow is accused by Wood of underhand meddling in the election of Thomas Clayton to the wardenship of Merton College in 1661.[3]

In this period Barlow, at the request of Robert Boyle, wrote an elaborate treatise on "Toleration in Matters of Religion". However, it was not published till after his death (in his Cases of Conscience, 1692). Barlow's reasoning is based rather on expediency than on principle, he is careful to show that the toleration in religion he advocates does not extend to atheists, papists or Quakers. At an earlier period, when the Jews were applying to Cromwell for readmission into England, Barlow, "at the request of a person of quality", had composed a tract on the "Toleration of the Jews in a Christian State", published in the same collection.[note 1] Barlow was, on the other hand, one of a group of Oxford grandees, with John Fell, Obadiah Walker, and Thomas Pierce, hostile to the Royal Society,[7] he was a declared enemy of the "new philosophy" (as propounded by leading members of the Society), and revealed his confessional reasons when he stigmatised it as "impious if not plainly atheistic, set on foot and carried on by the arts of Rome," so designing to ruin the Protestant faith by disabling men from defending the truth, and noting the Catholic background of Descartes, Gassendi, Mersenne and Du Hamel.[8] His Directions to a young Divine for his Study of Divinity belong to this period, they contain a catalogue of theological works classified according to subjects, with remarks on their value and character.[3]

When pro-vice-chancellor of the university in 1673, he called in question William Richards, chaplain of All Souls College, for Arminian doctrine in a sermon at St Mary's.[9] On the publication of George Bull's Harmonia Apostolica, Barlow pronounced a severe censure on his doctrine. Barlow wrote much in this period, but published little. Mr. Cottington's Divorce Case, on which Barlow's reputation as an ecclesiastical lawyer and casuistical divine mainly rests, was written in 1671.[3]

Barlow took a prominent part in two abortive schemes of comprehension (inclusion into the state church), which were set on foot in October 1667, and February 1668; the "Comprehensive Bill", as it was styled, was based on the Declaration of Breda; it was drawn up by Sir Robert Atkyns and Sir Matthew Hale, and revised and endorsed by Barlow and his friend John Wilkins. The introduction of the bill was frustrated by a declaration of the House of Commons, and the whole plan was finally dropped. Barlow had some part in the release of John Bunyan from Bedford gaol in 1677.[2][3]

In 1675, Barlow became Bishop of Lincoln through the good offices of two secretaries of state, Sir Joseph Williamson and Henry Coventry, both graduates of Queen's College, the latter having been his pupil; Gilbert Sheldon was opposed. Barlow's consecration (on 27 June) did not take place in the customary Lambeth Chapel, but in the chapel attached to the palace of the Bishop of Ely (then Peter Gunning) in Holborn. George Morley of Winchester was the consecrating prelate. Barlow resided mostly at Buckden Palace, near Huntingdon, and was accused of never having entered his cathedral; the Bishop's Palace at Lincoln had still not been repaired from damage done in the English Civil War, but George Savile, 1st Marquess of Halifax remonstrated with Barlow on the subject in 1684.

Barlow told his friend Sir Peter Pett that the real ground of hostility was not his absence from Lincoln, but his continuing hostility to Catholicism. In 1678, when Titus Oates forwarded his theory of a Popish Plot, Barlow had publicly declared his enmity to the papists, and to their supposed leader, James, Duke of York. On the introduction of the bill enforcing a test against popery, which excluded such peers from the House of Lords, Gunning of Ely defended the church of Rome from the charge of idolatry, but Barlow answered him vehemently. In 1680, while the Popish Plot panic was still at its height, he republished, under the title of Brutum Fulmen, the papal bulls of Pius V and Paul III, pronouncing the excommunication and deposition of Queen Elizabeth and of Henry VIII, with inflammatory comments, and learned proofs that "the pope is the great Antichrist, the man of sin, and the son of perdition." In 1682 appeared Barlow's answer to the inquiry "whether the Turk or pope be the greater Antichrist," giving the title to the latter, and in 1684 his letter to the Earl of Anglesey arguing that "the pope is Antichrist."[3]

When in 1684 Henry Viscount St John was convicted of killing Sir William Estcourt in a brawl,[10] and Charles II used the royal prerogative for his pardon, Bishop Barlow published an elaborate tract (1684–85) in support of the regal power to dispense with the penal laws; this tract was succeeded by "a case of conscience", proving that kings and supreme powers had authority to dispense with the positive precept condemning murderers to death. In the same year (1684), as the persecutions of nonconformists increased in violence and the quarter sessions of Bedford published "a sharp order" enforcing strict conformity, Barlow issued a letter to the clergy of his diocese requiring them to publish the order in their churches. A "free answer" was written to this letter by John Howe.[3]

Under James II[edit]

When the Catholic James II became king, Barlow was one of the first to declare his loyal affection for his new sovereign; when James issued his first declaration for liberty of conscience, he was one of the four bishops who sent up an address of thanks to the sovereign and caused it to be signed by 600 of his clergy. He also issued a letter in defence of his conduct. James Gardiner, then sub-dean, was a strong whig and refused to sign the address. However, on the appearance of the second declaration of 1688, Barlow addressed an equivocal letter to his clergy (on 29 May 1688).[3]

Under William and Mary[edit]

William and Mary came to the throne and demanded a new oath with hostility toward Rome. Barlow voted among the bishops that James had abdicated, and took the oaths to his successors; and was reportedly ready to replace non-jurors in his diocese, he died at Buckden aged 84, on 8 October 1691, and was buried in the chancel of the parish church, by his own desire occupying the same grave as his predecessor William Barlow. A monument on the north wall commemorates both in an epitaph of his own composition.[3]


Thomas Barlow's writings include:

  • Exercitationes aliquot metaphysicae de Deo (1637);
  • Plain reasons why a Protestant of the Church of England should not turn Roman Catholic (1688);
  • Cases of Conscience (1692).

Explanatory notes[edit]

  1. ^ In his Case of Conscience (1655-56) Bishop Barlow wrote, "I think that there is a sacred and heavy obligation among Christians... to endeavour the conversion of the Jew, which certainly cannot be by banishing them from all Christian commonwealths."[6]


  1. ^ John Spurr, "Barlow, Thomas (1608/9–1691)", ODNB, Oxford University Press, 2004 Retrieved 12 February 2015.(subscription required)
  2. ^ a b Christopher Hill, A Turbulent, Seditious and Factious People: John Bunyan and his Church (1988), p. 167.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l s:Barlow, Thomas (DNB00)
  4. ^ Pegasus, or the Flying Horse from Oxford, bringing the Proceedings of the Visitors and other Bedlamites.
  5. ^ British History on-line
  6. ^ Scult, Mel (1978). Millennial Expectations and Jewish Liberties: A Study of the Efforts to Convert the Jews in Britain, Up to the Mid Nineteenth Century. Brill Archive. p.29.
  7. ^ Jon Parkin, Science, Religion and Politics in Restoration England: Richard Cumberland's De Legibus Naturae (1999), p. 133.
  8. ^ Margery Purver, The Royal Society: Concept and Creation (1967), p. 157.
  9. ^ Nicholas Tyacke, Aspects of English Protestantism, c. 1530–1700 (2002), p. 295.
  10. ^

External links[edit]


 This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain"Barlow, Thomas". Dictionary of National Biography. London: Smith, Elder & Co. 1885–1900.

Church of England titles
Preceded by
William Fuller
Bishop of Lincoln
Succeeded by
Thomas Tenison