Lancelot Blackburne, Archbishop of York

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Lancelot Blackburne

Birthdate: (85)
Death: 1743 (85)
Immediate Family:

Husband of Catherine Talbot

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About Lancelot Blackburne, Archbishop of York

Lancelot Blackburne (sometimes Blackburn or Blackborne or Blackbourn[e]), (10 December 1658 – 23 March 1743) was an English clergyman, who became Archbishop of York, and – in popular belief – a pirate.

He was described by Horace Walpole, in his Memories, as "…Blackbourn, the jolly old Archbishop of York, who had all the manners of a man of quality, though he had been a buccaneer, and was a clergyman; but he retained nothing of his first profession, except his seraglio."

Early life

He was born in London, a younger brother of Richard Blackburne. He attended Westminster School, and in 1676 entered Christ Church, Oxford. He graduated in 1680, was ordained, and travelled to the West Indies. In January 1684 he was granted an MA by the university; at this time, he is known to have been in Nevis. A popular story recounts that he spent these years sailing with buccaneers, either as their chaplain or as a pirate himself; there is little evidence either way, although a record of 1681 notes that he was paid £20 by Charles II for "secret services".

Church career

He returned to England during 1684, marrying Catherine Talbot (the elder sister of William Talbot) in September, and shortly thereafter took up the first of a set of church posts.

In 1691 he became a Canon of Exeter, and in 1705 Dean of Exeter, succeeding William Wake whose patronage would later stand him in good stead, and in 1715 Archdeacon of Cornwall. In 1716 he travelled to Hanover as the personal chaplain to King George I and the next year became Bishop of Exeter. As Bishop, he was active in the House of Lords where he supported the repeal of the Occasional Conformity Act.

In 1724 he became Archbishop of York, a position he held until his death. While he continued to be politically active, he often neglected his spiritual duties; he appears to have carried out few confirmations, and stopped ordaining priests after 10 years. Instead, he kept apartments in Downing Street, London and spent much time at the royal court. Downing Street is listed as his abode on the 1739 royal charter of the Foundling Hospital, a charity for which he was a founding governor.

Blackburne was Lord High Almoner from 1723 to 1743. His career was controversial, with rumours that he had secretly married George I to his mistress. The Dictionary of National Biography mentions "his reputation for carnality" and "the laxity of his moral precepts", while Brewer's Rogues, Villains and Eccentrics comments that "[his] behaviour was seldom of a standard to be expected of an archbishop. In many respects his behaviour was seldom of a standard to be expected of a pirate." He was famously ejected by John Disney, the vicar of St. Mary's Church, Nottingham, after a confirmation service during which he asked for his pipe, tobacco and ale. One local legend in York even claimed that Dick Turpin was his butler.

Blackburne died on 23 March 1743. His wife Catherine died in 1726 and they left no children. It has often been claimed that he fathered Thomas Hayter; there is no conclusive evidence either way, and he did not himself identify Hayter as his son, but he did leave a sizeable portion of his estate to Hayter.

Description by Walpole

In a 1780 letter to David Dalrymple, Horace Walpole gave a lengthy description of Blackburne:

He was perfectly a fine gentleman to the last, to eighty-four; his favourite author was Waller, whom he frequently quoted… I often dined with him, his mistress, Mrs. Conwys, sat at the head of the table, and Hayter, his natural son by another woman, and very like him, at the bottom, as chaplain: he was afterwards Bishop of London. I have heard, but do not affirm it, that Mrs. Blackbourne, before she died, complained of Mrs. Conwys being brought under the same roof. To his clergy he was, I have heard, very imperious. One story I recollect, which showed how much he was a man of this world: and which the Queen herself repeated to my father. On the King's last journey to Hanover, before Lady Yarmouth came over, the Archbishop being With her Majesty, said to her, "Madam, I have been with your minister Walpole, and he tells me that you are a wise woman, and do not mind your husband's having a mistress.

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Lancelot Blackburne, Archbishop of York's Timeline

Age 85