The relationship between Samuel Wilberforce and William Ewart Gladstone, 1835-73, with special reference to contemporary religious issues
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AbstractThis thesis examines the private and public relationship between Samuel Wilberforce and William Ewart Gladstone, who became great friends between 1835 and 1873. Wilberforce (1805-1873), who became Bishop of Oxford in 1845, was an outstanding preacher and diocesan, an effective speaker in parliament, and the best known Anglican clergyman of his time. Gladstone (1809-1898), who became Liberal prime minister on four occasions, was the most fervently religious prime minister of the Victorian period. The thesis is divided into two parts. Part One examines the nature and development of the private friendship between Wilberforce and Gladstone. Chapter One describes their early lives and the start of their friendship in the mid-1830s. The two men had much in common; they both came from devoutly Evangelical backgrounds, yet both became High Churchmen; both their fathers were Tory Members of Parliament, and both went to Oxford University. Chapter Two examines the consolidation of their friendship from the 1840s until Wilberforce's death in 1873. It shows their mutual respect and admiration, and enjoyment of one another's company. Their friendship reflected sympathetic and empathic responses to various family crises, including the defection of some of Wilberforce's relatives to Roman Catholicism, and the deaths of close friends and relatives. Wilberforce's ambitions for promotion were thwarted, but Gladstone was able to appoint him to the venerable bishopric of Winchester in 1869. Gladstone was clearly distraught by Wilberforce's sudden death in 1873 and fulsomely eulogised his friend. Part Two examines the public relationship between Wilberforce and Gladstone, with particular reference to contemporary religious issues in which they shared a mutual interest. Chapter Three examines the response of Wilberforce and Gladstone to problems faced by the Church of England during the mid-Victorian period, including the divisions between Evangelicals and High Churchmen, Tractarianism, Ritualism, the Broad Church and various other doctrinal disputes. On these and other issues the two friends frequently acted in tandem. Wilberforce and Gladstone both argued with the protagonists of Darwinism in the debate on Evolutional Theory, which challenged Christian belief. Chapter Four examines the views of Gladstone and Wilberforce on the difficult relationship between Church and State during the mid-Victorian period, and explores, by reference to the Hampden controversy, the Gorham Judgement, the re-establishment of Convocation and Papal Aggression, the extent to which they were mutually supportive. Finally, Chapter Five considers the parliamentary roles of Wilberforce and Gladstone regarding ecclesiastical legislation, where they frequently co-operated in the promotion of, and support for measures including the development of an independent Colonial Church and regulation of the Anglican clergy. Whilst Gladstone's aim to disestablish the Church of Ireland was initially opposed by Wilberforce, he came to accept it as a decision of the electorate and was instrumental in persuading the English and Irish bishops not to oppose the legislation promoting disestablishment in 1869. The parliamentary co-operation between Wilberforce and Gladstone also extended to some social legislation, including the question of divorce and the extension of elementary educational provision in 1870. In summary, this original thesis offers the first detailed examination of the relationship between Samuel Wilberforce and William Gladstone - a relationship hitherto largely ignored by historians - and argues that theirs was a true and enduring friendship which equated with Aristotle's criteria forphilia, despite differences in their personalities and occasional differences of opinion, and which also extended to mutual co-operation and support in their public lives.
TypeThesis or dissertation
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