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  Thomas Herring (1693–1757), by William Hogarth, 1744 Thomas Herring (1693–1757), by William Hogarth, 1744
Herring, Thomas (1693–1757), archbishop of Canterbury, was the son of John Herring, rector of Walsoken in Norfolk, who had previously been vicar of Foxton, near Cambridge, and his wife, Martha Potts. Herring attended Walsoken School before moving to Wisbech grammar school. From there he went in 1710 to Jesus College, Cambridge, where he was a contemporary of Matthew Hutton, who was to succeed him in all three of his episcopal offices. He proceeded MA in 1717. He moved to Corpus Christi College as a fellow (1716–23) where he taught classics, and where he was ordained priest in 1719.

Herring was a fervent whig supporter in university politics (as in national affairs). Having been appointed a preacher at Ely House by Bishop Fleetwood of Ely (to whom he was chaplain), Herring became known to Philip Yorke, then solicitor-general, who, later as Lord Chancellor Hardwicke, was to be his close friend and adviser. At this stage he also held a number of livings: Holy Trinity, Cambridge; Rettendon in Essex; Great Shelford; Stow cum Quy; and, very briefly, All Hallows-the-Great. But he resided at one living only, Barley, near Royston. In 1728 a DD was conferred on Herring, and he was appointed chaplain to George II. Preaching at Ely House earned him a considerable reputation, and he achieved notoriety particularly for attacking as immoral John Gay's Beggar's Opera (1728). This episode marked the beginning of a friendship and correspondence with William Duncombe, the published letters to whom form an important source for a judgement on Herring's public role and private sentiment. In 1731 he was appointed rector of Bletchingley through the patronage of Sir William Clayton, and advanced to the deanery of Rochester, the patronage of Hardwicke being instrumental in his promotion. He resigned Bletchingley, but retained the deanery, when he was appointed in 1737 to the bishopric of Bangor. There he performed his duties faithfully each summer, leaving charming accounts of his journeys, with a deep appreciation of natural beauty. In 1743 he was appointed archbishop of York—bishops Edmund Gibson and Thomas Sherlock having refused that preferment.

Herring's time at York was notable first for his visitation of the diocese in 1743, a detailed report on the contemporary church in an extensive area of the north providing important evidence on the condition of the Georgian church. The second notable feature was his leadership of the county when volunteers were raised and a county fund—supported by ‘men of all parties’—established to resist the Jacobite uprising of 1745. (It was feared that the Jacobites would pass through Yorkshire as they advanced south.) Although a convinced whig, Herring's attitude to tories softened after the unity he had helped to create when danger was apparent. His leadership had been dependent on a close relationship with the three lords lieutenant of the Ridings of Yorkshire.

In 1747 Herring reluctantly accepted the archbishopric of Canterbury, bishops Gibson and Sherlock having refused the offer. He soon found himself in disagreement with the duke of Newcastle, the ‘ecclesiastical minister’, Herring favouring a more narrow range of (politically) orthodox whigs. For the second half of his tenure of the primacy he was afflicted by increasing ill health. There was an early difference with Newcastle over the summoning of convocation (though both were agreed that that body should confine its activities to expressions of loyalty to the regime). On ecclesiastical appointments Herring often found himself at odds with the duke (whose nominations tended to be less narrow in range than those of the archbishop). Although attractive as a person and a warm friend, Herring was a weak primate, disliking the responsibilities of office, and following Hardwicke on matters of policy—the Marriage Act of 1754, the establishment of the British Museum, the reformed calendar—but also in the enactment and repeal of the Jewish Naturalization Bill of 1753, and the abandonment of a scheme for bishops in America. Talk on unity with dissenters came to nothing, as did correspondence with Swiss protestants.

Herring was a kindly man, promoted to his last office beyond his desires (or his capacities), and dominated, however benignly, by Hardwicke, and, impatiently, by Newcastle. He failed to see the emerging pastoral needs of his northern diocese where large industrial areas were growing. His tendency to appoint his relations to offices prompted the pun that York was a good sea for herrings. The archbishop never married. He died at his house in Croydon on 23 March 1757, and was buried in Croydon parish church.

Herring was uninterested in theological debate, his own convictions being concerned with conduct rather than doctrine. His sermons reflected this practical emphasis. With the exception of the sermon preached in York Minster during the Jacobite uprising, his discourses were plain and unadorned. His theology was latitudinarian in spirit, if weak in substance, reflecting an aversion to metaphysical speculation. His evident sincerity and charm make him one of the most attractive, as he was among the most reluctant, archbishops of Canterbury. But the relationship with Newcastle cast a shadow over his tenure of office, and his dependence on Hardwicke effectively deprived him of initiative, had he been disposed to exercise it.

William Herring (1718–1774), dean of St Asaph, born in Norwich, was the son of William Herring (d. 1762), a Church of England clergyman who was probably the brother of Archbishop Thomas Herring. Educated at Clare College, Cambridge, he graduated BA in 1740 and proceeded MA in 1743; he held a fellowship of the college from 1741 to 1743. In 1750 he married Elizabeth Cotton in Lambeth Palace chapel. In 1751 he was made a Lambeth DD.

In the early part of his career Herring was rector of the Norfolk villages of Alburgh (1742–3) and Edgefield (1743–7). In 1747 he became rector of Bolton Percy, Yorkshire, and in 1751 he was elected dean of St Asaph. Herring held both posts until his death in Yorkshire on 23 May 1774.

Robert T. Holtby


Nichols, Illustrations, vol. 3 · BL, correspondence with Lord Hardwicke and the duke of Newcastle, Add. MSS · S. L. Ollard and P. C. Walker, eds., Archbishop Herring's visitation returns, 1743, 5 vols., Yorkshire Archaeological Society, 71–2, 75, 77, 79 (1928–31) · R. T. Holtby, ‘Thomas Herring as archbishop of York’, Northern History, 30 (1994), 105–21 · P. C. Yorke, The life and correspondence of Philip Yorke, earl of Hardwicke, 3 vols. (1913) · R. Browning, ‘Thomas Herring, the court whig as pastor’, Political and constitutional ideas of the court whigs (1982) · Venn, Alum. Cant. · GM, 1st ser., 44 (1774), 239 · DNB


Borth. Inst., corresp. and papers · LPL, corresp. and papers |  BL, letters to Nathaniel Forster, Add. MS 11275 · BL, corresp. with earl of Hardwicke, Add. MSS 35598–35599 · BL, corresp. with duke of Newcastle, etc., Add. MSS 32695–32870, 33058, passim · CCC Cam., Canterbury and York chapter and diocesan records · CCC Cam., corresp. with Sir George Lee · Hunt. L., letters to Edmund Gibson · U. Nott. L., letters to William Herring [copies] · W. Yorks. AS, Leeds, corresp. with Lord Irwin


W. Hogarth, oils, 1744, Tate collection [see illus.] · attrib. J. Willis, oils, before 1745, LPL; version, Bishopthorpe Palace, York · attrib. T. Hudson, oils, c.1748, NPG; version, CCC Cam. · attrib. J. S. Webster, oils, c.1757, LPL · J. Macardell, mezzotint, BM