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Francis Turner, Bishop of Ely - © Nash Ford PublishingFrancis Turner (1637-1700)
Born: 23rd August 1637 at Reading, Berkshire
Dean of Windsor
Bishop of Rochester
Bishop of Ely
Died: 16th June 1794 at London

Francis was the eldest son of Thomas Turner (1591-1672), the Dean of Canterbury, by Margaret (1608-1692), daughter of Sir Francis Windebank. He was born on 23rd August 1637, traditionally at Reading in Berkshire. Thomas Turner, President of Corpus Christi College, was his younger brother. He was living at his maternal-uncle’s home in Hurst, when he entered Winchester College in 1650.  Francis later proceeded to New College, Oxford, where he was admitted probationer-fellow on 7th November 1655. He graduated as a bachelor of arts on 14th April 1659, a master on 14th January 1663 and was one of those who took the ‘engagement’ declaring their loyalty to Parliament.

Francis’ preferments were mainly due to the favour of the Duke of York, to whom he was chaplain. On 30th December 1664, he was instituted to the rectory of Therfield in Hertfordshire, succeeding John Barwick (1612-1664). On 17th February 1665, he was incorporated at Cambridge and, on 8th May 1666, he was admitted as a fellow commoner to St. John’s College, Cambridge, to which he had been attracted by the possibility of patronage from Peter Gunning. He compounded as a bachelor of divinity and a legum doctor at Oxford on 6th July 1669. On 7th December1669, he was collated to the Prebend of Sneating in St. Paul’s Cathedral. On 11th April 1670, he succeeded Gunning as Master of St. John’s, Cambridge and it was during his incumbency that the college's third court was completed. During this period, he also spent much time at Therfield where he paid for the rebuilding of the chancel. He was Vice-Chancellor in 1678 and resigned his mastership at Christ­mas 1679 in order to follow the Catholic Duke of York to Scotland during his exile after the Popish Plot. He had been selected as chaplain to the Anglicans in his household and acted as an intermediary between the Duke and both the English and Scottish establishment. By 1681, he was performing a similar role between the Duke and the Commission for Ecclesiastical Promotions who were seeking out disreputable clerics under the direction of Henry Hyde, 2nd Earl of Clarendon. Not surprisingly, Turner became a beneficiary of the commission’s work, trading in Therfield for Great Haseley in Oxfordshire and then being installed as Dean of Windsor on 20th July 1683. He was consecrated Bishop of Rochester, at Lambeth Palace, on 11th November the same year, holding his deanery in commendam, with the office of Lord Almoner, because his diocese was so impoverished. On 16th July 1684, he was trans­lated to the Bishopric of Ely (confirmed 23rd August) in succes­sion to Gunning, who had made him one of his literary executors. He preached the sermon at the Duke of York’s coronation as King James II on 23rd April 1685, and, in the following July, prepared Monmouth for his execution.

However, Turner’s relationship with the new king cooled as his pro-Catholic religious policies took shape and the Archbishop of Canterbury was banished from court. When the King issued his Declaration of Indulgence which granted freedom of worship to Catholics and other dissenters, it was Turner who organised the opposition of the London parish clergy. Then, on 18th May 1688, he joined the Petitionary Protest of the Seven Bishops. The bishops were imprisoned and prosecuted but soon acquitted to the great delight of the populace. Turner regretted the damage this caused to King James’ position, and refused to support the invasion of his son-in-law, William of Orange. When the King fled London on 10th December, Turner and the Earl of Rochester called a provisional government of twenty-nine peers to meet at Guildhall. They issued a declaration unfavourable to James, but still lukewarm towards William. Turner then headed a deputation of bishops who tried to persuade James to compromise and return, but the King fled the country on 23rd December.

Bishop Turner de­clined the oath of allegiance to William and Mary, and hence incurred suspension from office on 1st August 1689. His diocese was administered by a commission consisting of Compton, Bishop of London, and Lloyd, Bishop of St. Asaph. On 1st February 1690, he was deprived of his bishopric. He was in correspondence with King James and professed to write “in behalf of my elder brother, and the rest of my nearest relations, as well as for myself” (meaning Archbishop Sancroft and the other nonjuring bishops). A pro­clamation for his arrest was issued on 5th February 1691, but he kept his head down and, on 24th February 1693, he was able to join the nonjuring bishops, Lloyd and White, in consecrating George Hickes and Thomas Wagstaffe as suffragans of Thetford and Ipswich, the ob­ject being to continue a succession in the Jacobite interest. The 2nd Earl of Clarendon, was present at the ceremony, which took place at White’s Lodging. In 1694, it was proposed that Turner, who was in easy circumstances, should be invited to St. Germains to attend­ upon King James, a proposal which the former monarch ap­proved but did not carry out. On 15th December 1696, Turner was arrested, but discharged on condition that he leave the coun­try. On 26th December, he was rearrested. No more is heard of him till his death, which occurred in London on 2nd November 1700. He was buried on 5th November in the chancel at Therfield Church. On 18th October 1676, he was married by Gunning (then Bishop of Ely), at Ely House Chapel in London, to Anna daughter of Walter Horton of Catton in Derbyshire. She died in childbirth, aged twenty-six, on 28th January 1678. His intestacy gave all his effects to his daughter Margaret (d. 25th December 1724), wife of Richard Goulston of Widdihall in Hertfordshire, thus disap­pointing the expectation of bequests to St. John’s College, of which he had already been a benefactor.

Edited from Sidney Lee's 'Dictionary of National Biography' (1899).

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