Saved from the fire: the letters of Archbishop William Sancroft (1617-1693)

William Sancroft (he sometimes spelled his name Sandcroft), was nominated as Archbishop of Canterbury by Charles II in 1677 and duly took office the following year. But he was removed in 1690 for refusing to take an oath of allegiance to William III and Mary II, based on his wish not to violate the oath of allegiance he had sworn to James II six years earlier. Sancroft was succeeded by Archbishop John Tillotson, and he spent his last years in relative seclusion in the village of Fressingfield in Suffolk where he had been born, and where he died in 1693.

Lambeth Palace portrait of Archbishop Sancroft

In 1991 the Friends of Lambeth Palace Library helped the Library to purchase 37 letters written by Sancroft to his friend William Lloyd, Bishop of Norwich at the time of his ejection. They are lively and humorous, and they make clear his unwillingness to leave. Several times Sancroft says “throw this letter into ye fire having read it”. I can however report that the Library stores the letters in an archive storage room with appropriate temperature and humidity controls and fire prevention measures.

Letter from Archbishop Sancroft to Bishop Lloyd, ref: MS 3894, f.11

Sancroft had a thirst for knowledge of many kinds throughout his life, and had a love of books. He had spent much of the Commonwealth period in exile, including time in Italy when he had taken the opportunity to purchase books on art and architecture. He was consequently devoted to the Library, and spent considerable time arranging and cataloguing its manuscripts. He intended to leave his collections to the Library, but his deprivation brought a change of heart, and his books were crated up during his final days. He gave his library of 6000 volumes to Emmanuel College, Cambridge, which he had attended and where he had later served as Master. Much of his collection of manuscripts was purchased from Sancroft’s nephew by Dr Thomas Tanner, Bishop of St Asaph, who in turn bequeathed them to the Bodleian Library in Oxford