John Tillotson, Archbishop of Canterbury

John Tillotson, Archbishop of Canterbury

  • Born: 1630 at Sowerby, near Halifax
  • 1647: educated and later Fellow of Clare Hall, Cambridge
  • 1661: present at the Savoy Conference (as an auditor with the Presbyterian Commissioners i.e. the Nonconformist side)
  • 1662: conformed to the CofE when the Act of Uniformity was passed
  • 1668: helped the Seven Bishops draw up their reasons for refusing to read the Declaration of Indulgence of James II
  • 1672: appointed Dean of Canterbury
  • 1674: joined Baxter in drafting a Bill to comprehend the more moderate Nonconformists with the CofE
  • 1675: appointed Prebendary of St Paul’s
  • 1689: appointed Dean of St Paul’s and member of the commission for revising the BCP and the Canons
  • 1691: appointed Archbishop of Canterbury where he opposed Romanism and was desirious to include Protestant dissenters in the CofE.
  • Died: 1694


Short Biography by Alan Clifford 

John Tillotson has been described as ‘the wisest and best man that ever sat in the primatial chair of Canterbuy’. More recently, Dr. Edward Carpenter has written that ‘If character in itself qualified for office, no man could have had greater claims to Canterbury than John Tillotson. He was intelligent, liberal and warm hearted.’ Whilst his primacy was brief and uneventful, it may be added that probably no post-Reformation archbishop has ever upheld the Protestant character of the Church of England more than John Tillotson.

Puritan Upbringing 
Born at Sowerby, near Halifax in 1630, Tillotson lived through the religious and civil upheavals of the 17th century. His parents being convinced puritans, John embraced decided presbyterian views.
He entered Clare Hall, Cambridge in 1647, where he came under the influence of some of the leading puritans of the day. His tutor was the presbyterian David Clarkson. He admired the writings of Dr. William Twisse, prolocutor of the Westminster Assembly, and Dr. Thomas Goodwin, one of the independent members of the assembly. However, Tillotson was also attracted by the rational outlook of Ralph Cudworth, Master of Clare, and William Chillingworth’s Religion of Protestants  also influenced him.

Tillotson’s conservative, presbyterian puritanism distanced him from some of the more radical puritans of the day. He became disenchanted with Goodwin and others when, a week after the death of Oliver Cromwell in 1658, Tillotson heard these divines call God’s providence into question for allowing the Protector’s death. His views and personal attachments beginning to change, Tillotson received episcopal ordination at the hands of the Bishop of Galloway, Dr. Thomas Sydserf, who was then in London. Notwithstanding these developments, Tillotson was an auditor with the Presbyterian Commissioners at the Savoy Conference in 1661. With the passing of the Act of Uniformity of 1662, Tillotson conformed to the Church of England, thus severing his formal links with the Presbyterians.

Tillotson’s abilities guaranteed his recognition. In 1672, he was made Dean of Canterbury and, three years later, Prebendary of St. Paul’s. He became Dean of St. Paul’s in 1689 and Archbishop of Canterbuy in 1691. When Tillotson died, after a primacy of only three years, King William declared “I have lost the best friend that I ever had, and the best man I ever knew.”