Priesthood in the 18th and 19th Centuries

I guess an interpretation of clerical terms applying to the Anglican Church may be helpful to some readers (as it is to me). I therefore offer the following (courtesy of Microsoft® Encarta® Reference Library 2002. © 1993-2001 Microsoft Corporation)

Bishop: Senior cleric in charge of the spiritual life and administration of a particular region (diocese).

Dean: A senior member of the clergy who holds an administrative position in a cathedral or collegiate church or a division in a diocese.

Abbot: Monk in charge of a monasty - usually(?) independent of the local bishopric.

Rector: Member of the Clergy (in the Church of England) who is in charge of a parish. In the Anglican Church, the term "rector" formerly applied to a cleric entitled to the whole of the tithes levied in the parish, as opposed to a vicar (Latin, "deputy"), who was only entitled to part.

Vicar: A priest in the Anglican church who is in charge of a parish and who receives a salary but not the tithes (sometimes a small part of the tithes).

Curate: In colloquial English, the term is generally reserved for the office of a cleric who acts as an assistant to a rector (the head of the parish), but this is not always the case.

Tithe: Individual's financial support for a church: one tenth of a person's income or produce paid voluntarily or as a tax for the support of a church or its clergy.

Benefice or Living: a church office that provides a living for its holder through an endowment attached to it. Also the revenue or property that provides the living of the holder of a church benefice.

I guess the idea of priesthood has different connotations for different people. Certainly the role of the village priest has changed a lot over the centuries, and probably in latter days too; certainly when I was a child growing up in rural Somerset, the village priest (or vicar) was a highly respected member of the community, but was seldom if ever wealthy - usually the opposite, as seemed becoming for a representative of the Christian faith! However, it was not always so.

Below is an excerpt from a small but interesting narrative that throws some light on the priesthood in the 18th and 19th centuries:

From "A History of Burnham-on-Sea and Highbridge" by V.J. Wrightley, Chapter 8

It is difficult today to realise what an important role the churches and chapels and their ministers, notably the Anglican ones, played in the life of small towns and villages, especially in places like Burnham and Highbridge where the squirearchy was thinly represented. A story may illustrate this: Mrs. E. McKie remembers as a child at Sunday School before 1910 hearing the vicar's wife, Mrs. E. Dupuis, answering a question as to what the Queen was, replying that she had the same sort of place in Britain as she, Mrs. Dupuis, had in Burnham. The vicar of Burnham was far richer than almost all of his parishioners; until the agricultural depression of the 1880s his stipend was approximately £550 p.a. with a very pleasant free house. The Dupuis family also obviously had private means, kept three maids and a manservant, entertained and had excellent holidays, going to Auvergne and Italy in the days when few British could afford to go abroad. The vicar gave £855 to the church restoration, while the salary of the master of the church school was never more than £50 in the 19th century, plus house or rent allowance of £25. The vicar of Lympsham (Stephenson) was both squire and patron of his own living; the vicar of East Brent (Denison) was the brother of the Bishop of Salisbury, related to the Speaker and the peerage, and on terms of regular correspondence with Gladstone, Keble, Pusey and other well-known Victorians. The Rector of Huntspill (Lake), a fellow of Balliol College, Oxford, received £1000 p.a. in 1858; he went on to become Dean of Durham and Warden of its University in 1869. All had curates to help them.

….. The long-serving incumbents mentioned above were all Oxford men and two were Etonians. The respect in which they were held is shown in what happened when the Dupuis returned from their honeymoon in 1879; the horses were unharnessed from their carriage at the station, and men of the parish drew it to the vicarage, while children were let out of school to greet them.

….. In 1901 Vicar Dupuis was looking for a new curate. Four candidates came for interview. His wife (who kept a diary) records that one was deaf, one was blind, one was a Welshman with a funny accent and one was a bounder who discussed his love affairs. There was indeed a big social and educational gap between the beneficed clergy and humble curates, many of whom never succeeded in getting a living as they did not know the patrons or did not have the right connections.