Simeon’s Trust

Simeon’s Trust July 21, 2017

In his book, The Silent Revolution and the Making of Victorian England, Herbert Schlossberg sums up the career of the Cambridge Evangelical leader, Charles Simeon. He emphasizes Simeon’s role as trustee of “Simeon’s Trust,” a project that depended on “the peculiar nature of the right to appoint church rectors and vicars” (63–4).

Specifically: “As a property right, the ‘advowson’—the power to nominate incumbents to parishes—was owned and, like any other piece of property, could be sold or passed on to heirs. This practice led to one of the difficulties of Evangelical ministries; when the incumbent died or retired, he was replaced by a successor chosen by whoever owned the advowson. . . . John Thornton, father of Henry Thornton of Clapham, had left funds for the purpose of purchasing advowsons that would be used for appointing Evangelical clergymen, and the power to accomplish this eventually fell into Simeon’s hands. In the 1820s Simeon began to put his own money into the project and whatever other funds he could raise. Hence evangelical views, which for decades were enough to deny livings to clergymen, gradually became a way to gain a living” (64).

With these funds, Simeon was able to bypass the efforts of churchmen like Bishop Marsh of Peterborough who “devised his famous ‘trap’ in order to keep [Evangelicals] out of parishes. This was a series of eighty-seven questions designed for the sole purpose of smoking out evangelical views in prospective clergymen in order to exclude them from the diocese” (64). 

Perhaps the lesson is: Episcopal traps are powerful; the ability to purchase clerical appointments is more so.

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