History is a fascinating subject to study. Far from being dull and boring (as is the common complaint of school children subject to memorizing piles of dates), it is a treasure trove of seeing God’s wonderful providences in preserving His church. I’ve been recently reminded of the importance of history lately in my seminary studies in the book of Acts. The growth of the followers of The Way in a period of about 30 years is striking and can only be explained through the work of the Holy Spirit.
But this blog post is not about the book of Acts. It is actually about a Christian figure some 1700 years later living all the way up in the British Isles. As part of the final year of my Bachelor of Arts in History, I did a research project on British nobleman and Evangelical: Second Earl of Dartmouth, William Legge. Over the next little while, I intend to publish the product of that research project in four blog posts. The full title of this project is:
William Legge, Second Earl of Dartmouth, Patron of Evangelicals, and Colonial Secretary: An Examination of Dartmouth’s Contribution to the Evangelical Revival and How His Evangelicalism His Influenced His Politics
Today I will simply publish the Introduction to my research. I hope you enjoy it!
Lord and Lady Dartmouth are here; we pass much time together: and I have daily more and more reason to rejoice before God in their behalf; all prejudice is taken out of their hearts, and I verily believe their delight is in the saints that are upon the earth, and in such as exceed in virtue, without any party spirit, in narrowing their affection towards any of their brethren in Christ Jesus upon account of any outward difference. O, Sir, how extraordinary it is to see people of their rank, youth, and property, joined by every qualification and endowment of mind and body which can make them amiable in the eyes of the world, desiring to become yet more vile for Christ’s sake – to see them breathing after inward holiness, as the hart panteth after the water-brooks! Surely nothing less than Almighty power could effect this. I trust you will remember both them and me in your prayers, that we may not stop short of the crown and prize.
So writes the 18th Century evangelical Church of England clergyman: Martin Madan, regarding William Legge, the Second Earl of Dartmouth and his wife. Dartmouth was indeed highly viewed and regarded by many of his contemporaries as a man of integrity and evangelical piety. The well-known Calvinist preacher, George Whitefield, would describe Dartmouth as “the Daniel of the Age.” John Wesley himself would praise regarding Dartmouth saying,
- I had the satisfaction of spending an hour with that real patriot, Lord [Dartmouth]. What an unheard-of thing it is that, even in a Court, he should retain all his sincerity! He is, indeed, what I doubt Secretary Craggs never was, Statesman, yet friend to truth.
Members of the aristocracy would take delight in Dartmouth’s sincerity, even in the small and seemingly insignificant things. For example, Lady Fanny Shirley would write of Dartmouth in a letter saying, “It is, indeed, a delightful sight to see a person of Lord Dartmouth’s dignity and politeness closing a letter with the name of Jesus Christ.”
These quotations indicate what a rarity it was in the 18th Century to find an aristocrat who was deeply religious and evangelical. David Bebbington writes that “Evangelical penetration of high society, with the notable exceptions of the Countess of Huntingdon and the Earl of Dartmouth, was deferred until the aftermath of the French Revolution.” Yet for all the rarity of people such as Dartmouth, very little has been written on him as an evangelical and a patron of the Evangelical Revival. Often just a few paragraphs or even just a couple of sentences are dedicated to his role in the Evangelical Revival, with most of them talking about his friendship and support of John Newton. Indeed, the above quote about Dartmouth is the only reference to him in Bebbington’s classic on Evangelicalism. Further, only one biography has ever been written on Dartmouth and this one primarily speaks of his time as Secretary of State to the Colonies in the years prior to the American Revolution. This is in stark contrast to the numerous biographies that have been written about the Countess of Huntingdon and her support of Evangelicals.
There are numerous reasons for this. For one, Dartmouth seems to be often lost in the great shadow of Huntingdon. Huntingdon is considered the great patron of evangelicals and so the important role of Dartmouth in this patronage is forgotten or quickly passed by. Another reason is possibly the rather uncontroversial character of Lord Dartmouth. Dartmouth, unlike Huntingdon, remained a devoted member of the Church of England his entire life. Dartmouth, unlike Wilberforce, did not get heavily involved in social political issues from a legislative perspective. So, in several respects, the influence of Dartmouth is hard to be determined precisely because he was so uncontroversial. One final reason he seems to be often forgotten is the difficulty in finding primary resources on Dartmouth. Other than the three volumes of the Historical Manuscript Commission there is very little material out there, except laced in the piles of letters, biographies, and autobiographies of Dartmouth’s contemporaries.
However, this research project is deeply interested in thoroughly examining Dartmouth’s role in the Evangelical Revival and as such it is divided into two major sections.
Part One will establish Dartmouth’s connections to various evangelical clergymen and aristocrats and determine who he all patronized and assisted. In doing this, this section will not only mention some of the more well-known facts of Dartmouth’s role in the Evangelical Revival (such as his support and friendship to John Newton), but also some of the lesser known facts (such as his support for the Moravian Brethren in Labrador). While Dartmouth certainly was not a William Wilberforce in his political promotion of religious causes, it will be shown that he did not completely ignore religious political concerns. This is evident in his connections to the evangelical network, his friendship to Huntingdon, his support of various institutions, and, especially, his patronage of the clergy. Christopher Brown aptly writes that “Few laymen worked more assiduously than William Legge, second earl of Dartmouth, in advancing the careers of ‘serious clergy’ within the Church of England.”
Dartmouth’s evangelicalism is also both implicitly and explicitly evident during his time as Secretary of State to the Colonies (1772 – 1775). Thus, Part II is devoted to his time serving as Colonial Secretary. That section will specifically seek to examine how Lord Dartmouth could mix his evangelicalism with his weighty cabinet position. Among a host of various topics, it will examine how a man such as Dartmouth found himself in such an exalted political position, it will speak of his support of parliamentary supremacy, and also, how he could, as a committed Protestant, support the Quebec Act.
Preliminary Discussion: State of the Church in England
Before the importance of Dartmouth to the Evangelical Revival is established, some crucial background information needs to be discussed.
If someone was to travel back in time, about two-hundred years ago, into the 18th Century, one would find a very different world from the 21st Century. On the whole, European society was considered to be Christian. Many countries had State Churches and the Anglican Church in Great Britain is a prime example. Yet, this was also a difficult time for the church from several perspectives. There was a growing tendency to intellectualism during the 18th Century. Clergy seemed more interested in academic exercises and prowess than in preaching the gospel. Mark Noll writes,
In reaction to what they regarded as the overzealous enthusiasm of Puritanism and the coercive tyranny of Roman Catholicism, a considerable number of Anglican intellectuals were proposing a calmer, more self-controlled, more reasonable religion. The sermons of Archbishop Tillotson, which were read widely in Britain and the colonies for more than a generation after his death in 1694, stressed duty, human effort and common morality much more than original sin, a substitutionary atonement and the work of the Holy Spirit.
A reasonable religion is a direct result of the Age of the Enlightenment (which was at its apex during the 18th Century) on the Christian church. Men like Immanuel Kant, Matthew Tindal, and David Hume were starting to rethink and redefine religion and Christianity. As society was becoming more and more rational and secular, the peculiarity and the special place of Christianity amidst all the religions of the world, was beginning to be questioned. Due to the growth of reason and science men were starting to doubt whether the Christian faith, as it was known historically, had any importance in the new world.
Another trend in the church around this time was dead orthodoxy: people were attending church out of tradition and because it was a respectable thing to do. There was little heartfelt religion. Bebbington writes,
- Clergymen were expected to display the manners of the gentry, among whom they were educated at Oxford and Cambridge. Their pulpit ministry was partly designed to teach the lower orders their place in the order of things. Conscientious men there were in the Church of England, notably at episcopal level, but there was little effective check on clerical negligence. The church played a salient role in everyday life, but at the expense of imbibing a strong dose of secularity.
Thus, there was a growing intellectual and formal Christianity in England.
However, there was also a growing conservative religious element: a response to the intellectualism and traditionalism in the Church of England. This response has come to be known by historians as Evangelicalism and the movement it produced as the Evangelical Revival (or the Great Awakening in America). Lord Dartmouth would become a crucial part of this movement.
David Bebbington argues that there are four crucial elements in being classified as an Evangelical. He defines an evangelical as emphasising these four things:
- conversion, or “the belief that lives need to be changed”;
- the Bible, or the “belief that all spiritual truth is to be found in its pages”;
- activism, or the dedication of all believers, including laypeople, to lives of service for God, especially as manifested in evangelism (spreading the good news) and missions (taking the gospel to other societies); and
- crucicentrism, or the conviction that Christ’s death was the crucial matter in providing atonement for sin (i.e., providing reconciliation between a holy God and sinful humans).
These four elements are largely seen in the great evangelical preachers of the 18th Century. Men like Jonathan Edwards, George Whitefield, and John Wesley preached throughout Great Britain and its Colonies, calling men to repentance and belief in Jesus Christ. The 18th Century is very much an age in which one sees a renewal of meaningful Christianity in reply to the dead orthodoxy that existed in the State Churches. Indeed, Christianity was invigorated by the preaching of various men and became a very powerful force that would shape the thinking of the Victorian Age.
 Quoted Aaron Seymour, The Life and Times of Selina Countess of Huntingdon Volumes I (London: W.E. Painter, 1844), 433
 Quoted in Aaron Seymour, The Life and Times of Selina Countess of Huntingdon Volumes II (London: W.E. Painter, 1844), 17
 John Wesley, The Journal of John Wesley. Volume 6. Edited by Nehemiah Curnock. (London: The Epworth Press, 1938), 179 – 180
 Quoted in Seymour, The Life and Times Vol. II, 33
 D.W. Bebbington, Evangelicalism in Modern Britain: A History from the 1730s to the 1980s. (Cambridge: University Press, 1989), 23
 Christopher Brown, “Evangelicals and the origins of anti-slavery in England” on Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (ODNB) (http://www.oxforddnb.com.ezproxy.aekc.talonline.ca/view/theme/96075?backToResults=%2Fsearch%2Frefine%2F%3FdocStart=1%26themesTabShow=true) Accessed December 3, 2016
 Mark Noll, The Rise of Evangelicalism: The Age of Edwards, Whitefield and the Wesleys. (Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 2003), 40 – 41
 Bebbington, Evangelicalism, 17 – 18
 Summarized by Noll in, The Rise of Evangelicalism, 19