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In the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries dioceses were large and bishops few and far between. The majority of their number were high churchmen who had strong connections with the aristocracy. They necessarily spent a good deal of their time in London attending to Parliamentary business. Bishops such as Kaye of Lincoln, Blomfield of Chester, and Monk of Gloucester were prominent members of the Ecclesiastical Commission whose concerns further kept them from their dioceses. Additionally, Kaye and Monk came from academic backgrounds. The result of all this was that bishops were rarely seen in their dioceses except perhaps for the odd visitation or round of perfunctory confirmation services and had little time to grapple with the problems of industrial society. Prompted by reforming figures such as John Bird Sumner and Samuel Wilberforce in the early Victorian years, some attempts were made to reform the role and image of the episcopate. No general widespread change was observable, however, until Palmerston became Prime Minister in 1855. During his ten years in office he appointed bishops to nineteen English sees, and when he died more than half of the bishops in England were his appointees. In his first ministry the majority of his appointees were evangelicals whose selection owed much to the influence of his stepson-in-law, Lord Shaftesbury. In his second ministry, when Gladstone joined the government, Palmerston elevated both evangelicals and high churchmen to the bench. Significantly, although most of Palmerston's prelates had achieved academic distinctions they also came to office with a wealth of parochial experience. They were predominantly pastors of the people rather than distant lordly prelates. They concerned themselves with reforming their dioceses by reviving the role of Archdeacon and extending the number of Rural Deaneries. They gave themselves to the building of churches and schools as well as the promotion of teacher education. They promoted missions and encouraged the use of laymen and laywomen in the parishes. They demonstrated a particular concern for their clergy, raising the standard of ordination examinations, giving advice on preaching and pastoral work, and doing their best to raise the level of stipends. These aspects together with their battles over ritualism, their theology, and their work in Parliament are examined in detail in Nigel Scotland's wide-ranging study. He concludes by arguing that Palmerston's prelates brought about a significant change in the English episcopate.
Buy Good and Proper Men: Lord Palmerston and the Bench of Bishops by Nigel Scotland from our Christian Books store - isbn: 9780227679463 & 0227679466
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