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  Mandell Creighton (1843–1901), by W. & D. Downey, pubd 1893 Mandell Creighton (1843–1901), by W. & D. Downey, pubd 1893
Creighton, Mandell (1843–1901), bishop of London and historian, was born in Carlisle on 5 July 1843, the elder son of Robert Creighton (d. 1878), who built up a family business in Carlisle, and Sarah Mandell (d. 1850/51), of a farming family in Cumberland. He had a brother and two sisters. Of the sister who survived infancy little is known, but Creighton kept in touch with his brother, James, who continued the family's prominence in Carlisle, and on the latter's death in 1896 Creighton and his wife opened their home to his children. Creighton's own mother had died when he was seven. His father was a stern parent and, despite companionship at school, Creighton seems to have had a solitary adolescence, taking long walks, a relaxation that he enjoyed throughout his life (in his youth he walked from Oxford to Durham in three days), and forming decided, independent opinions. He went first to the cathedral school in Carlisle in 1852 and in 1858, with a scholarship, to the grammar school of Durham.

Merton College, 1862–1874

In October 1862 Creighton went into residence at Merton College, Oxford, with a classical postmastership. In a small college he was one of a handful who did not come from a leading public school and who took their studies seriously. His intellectual prominence and his moral convictions provoked criticism from some of his contemporaries and won admiration from others, among them ‘athletes’ with some of whom he made lasting friendships. His powers of concentration and flair for literary composition were already evident. He took a first class in literae humaniores in 1866 and was elected as probationer for a Merton fellowship in December that year. After a mere few months of preparation he was tutoring undergraduates in modern history in 1867.

Throughout the seven years of Creighton's fellowship, Merton was experiencing the stresses of the recent reforms which affected the whole university. At the same time Oxford was absorbing the controversies over ritual and doctrine brought about by the Tractarians and Darwin. His appointment was part of a steady improvement in the intellectual quality of Merton's governing body in line with reforming interests; as tutor and, shortly afterwards, principal of the postmasters responsible for undergraduate discipline and performance, he promoted the raising of standards in accordance with the college's policy. By helping to initiate the sharing of lectures among like-minded colleges, and as an examiner, he promoted these improvements more generally. The minutes of college meetings show the continuing preoccupation with the character of chapel services and the requirement on undergraduates to attend. Changes in the status of clerical fellows in these years were even more directly related to Creighton's own position. The changing environment in the university was matched by significant changes in his own life. In 1870 he was ordained deacon, as required by his fellowship but also fulfilling a long-settled purpose: as a schoolboy at Durham he had told the wife of the headmaster that he intended to become a bishop. He was priested at Christmas 1873. In 1871 he had met his future wife, Louise (1850–1936) [see ], daughter of Robert von Glehn (d. 1885), a naturalized merchant from Estonia, and Agnes Duncan (d. 1881). They were married on 8 January 1872, and Creighton applied to retain his fellowship. The change required in the statutes to retain a fellowship after marriage was duly conceded, not without opposition although it accommodated other members of the college. In these same years Creighton showed his ability as a popularizer of the study of history, partly in extramural lectures to non-academic audiences. The scholarly standards which he brought to this new discipline from his earlier studies in classics led to his wish to give more time to writing history than his college duties allowed. In 1874, not without misgivings and in the face of a petition from all the senior undergraduates, he and his wife decided to accept the college living of Embleton in Northumberland. There he expected to have leisure to write a history of the papacy on the eve of the Reformation, a theme which had become the main preoccupation of his university lectures because other tutors chose to offer more attractive topics.

Embleton, 1874–1884

Embleton was a remote rural parish on the Northumbrian coast close to Dunstanburgh Castle. Yet it provided a more than comfortable stipend and all the time that he was there Creighton had a curate. Despite being urged to stay in Oxford, Creighton anticipated that the burden of university business, combined with the business of his college and teaching, would prevent him completing the extended piece of work which he had in mind. In his view Embleton offered ‘the opportunity for uninterrupted work … and concentration of intellectual energy on one subject’. In March 1875 the Creightons settled into the large vicarage with its garden full of trees. Parochial responsibilities were a challenge because they were unfamiliar. Apart from one or two landed families like the Greys at Fallodon and Howick, Creighton moved among poorly educated parishioners: quarrymen in Embleton village, farmers and labourers in the surrounding countryside, and the families of the fishermen on the coast. A northerner himself, he knew better than to take his people for granted and in the course of his incumbency he won their friendship and trust. He set a pattern for his later ministry by forging confident relations with successive Presbyterian colleagues and encouraging the largely Methodist fishermen to be active in their church. As early as May 1875 he had established the routine of working in his study in the mornings and spending the afternoon until seven visiting parishioners, taking them as he found them at home or at work. There were not so many of them (Mrs Creighton estimated seventeen hundred), but Creighton preferred to cover the 7 miles of his parish on foot. From Embleton he published the first two volumes of the History of the Papacy (1882) and upwards of half a dozen of the papers reprinted in Historical Essays and Reviews (1902), mainly on figures of the Italian Renaissance. To complete this work he depended largely on books which he bought himself, emphasizing original sources, such as his valued copy of Muratori's Rerum Italicarum scriptores (1723–51), and others to be found in the citations and appendices of his volumes on the papacy.

Cambridge, 1884–1891

Surrounded by his growing family (four daughters and three sons), producing work of historical and literary merit to satisfy both scholarly and general readers, Creighton's years at Embleton were happy; but he knew that they would not and should not last, and he was thinking of moving as he became increasingly involved in the administration of the new diocese of Newcastle. Nevertheless, the summons from Cambridge to be the first Dixie professor of ecclesiastical history in May 1884 came out of the blue. He doubted his qualifications for the position, although he had been enquiring about the succession to William Stubbs in Oxford when the invitation reached him. In accordance with the new foundation, his purpose was to establish the history of the church as a subject with appeal to students of politics, to lawyers and theologians, and to the merely curious, as much as to budding historians. His aim was to treat this field in the same fashion as any other historical topic, without prejudice or ulterior purpose. ‘I turn to the past to learn its story’, he wrote, ‘without any preconceived opinion what that story may be’ (Life and Letters, 1.280). As a historian he was concerned with what the past had to tell about the character of the actors and their times rather than with the accumulation of information.

Being a newcomer to Cambridge, Creighton did not push himself forward. However, he was sought out for his advice and political sense, contributing from his arrival to changes in the historical tripos and its examination, with more choice and more open-ended questions. His standing among his colleagues was shown when, in 1885, prolonged discussions about the publication of an English journal of history came to fruition and he was invited to be the first editor of the English Historical Review. Creighton had no illusions about the work this would entail, and he accepted out of duty, before any editorial policy had been framed, quite apart from his goal of promoting interest in the discipline and improving research. The Review took a lot of time and energy, finding and corresponding with contributors on subjects from Homer to recent British politics and keeping in close touch with Longmans, who undertook its publication and were concerned about the early failure to recover their costs. Among others, articles were obtained from celebrities such as Gladstone, Viscount Bryce, and Lord Acton without evident results in increased circulation. As far as possible Creighton avoided university duties, but he was an active member of his college, Emmanuel, which had provided the endowment for the Dixie chair. In 1886 he was chosen as its representative to contribute to the 250th anniversary of Harvard College, since John Harvard had been at Emmanuel before emigrating. In a sense, though, Creighton was but a part-time Cambridge man. In June 1885 he was appointed a canon of Worcester Cathedral and he and his household lived in the close there during university vacations, until his appointment as bishop of Peterborough. He contributed actively to the intellectual and liturgical life of the cathedral, lecturing himself, bringing visiting scholars to lecture to the clergy, preaching, leading the three-hour devotion on Good Friday (a practice which he brought to Peterborough and St Paul's, London), and as examining chaplain.

Creighton and the episcopate

Worcester rather than Cambridge prepared Creighton for the remainder of his career, as a bishop. He was nominated to Peterborough in March 1891: at the age of forty-eight he entered once more into an unfamiliar dimension. Bishops at all times are of uneven quality; none gains universal approval. Of those whom he had encountered earlier in his career only Lightfoot at Durham and Wilberforce at Newcastle had impressed Creighton. He saw himself as more than the bishop of a diocese: he was a bishop of the Church of England with a historic sense of the identity of church and nation. Beyond that nation, he came to office at a time when the Anglican church was becoming aware of itself as a worldwide communion. While not wholly enthusiastic about them, Creighton was in demand at the sequence of church congresses in the 1880s and 1890s where, as well as being secretary for a time, he delivered many of the addresses which reflect his view of the church's role in national affairs in the past and in the present. As a bishop he was a regular participant at the informal council of bishops which met regularly under the chairmanship of archbishops Benson and then Temple. Little of Creighton's experience in Oxford, Embleton, Cambridge, or even Worcester had prepared him for episcopal office. On the other hand, the formation of his character had equipped him very completely.

Character and appearance

As a schoolboy Creighton's brother gave him the nickname Homer; friends of his undergraduate days knew him as the Professor (or the P) and deferred to his intellectual and moral judgement for the most part; after marriage he was known in the family circle as Max. These bynames reflect different aspects of Creighton's character: the scholar concerned with achievements of the past and the man of the world comfortable in dealing with the present. After leaving school he wrote a guide for his successor as head monitor of remarkable authority and moral certainty. He was a sophisticated and opinionated undergraduate of aesthetic tastes, in sympathy with the high-church interest. His assurance about standards of behaviour, which won both respect and opposition as an undergraduate, continued as a young fellow charged with college discipline; and this moral earnestness and certainty were not lessened by ordination. There were grounds for his self-accusation that as a young man he was a prig. His conviction of the church's position as the soul of the nation, and the place of the church by law established as that soul's keeper, governed his political views, which veered from moderate Liberal to moderate Conservative, as Gladstone's policies seemed to threaten the established church. It gave rise, too, to misguided views about the independence of the medieval English church from Rome, which were widespread among the clergy of his time. The necessary identity of church and nation, a topic for many of his addresses, was complemented by his belief in his country's mission at home and overseas in guarding and promoting the humane values of civilization which had been revived in the Renaissance, the historical period to which he was most attached. He was a man of his time: the Victorian head of his family who lectured his young bride with a kindly patronage on intellectual and aesthetic taste; or who wrote offhandedly to his mother-in-law that the interruptions from the birth of a second child were now over and, as an afterthought, that he had another daughter. He could be very direct, as when he had written earlier to the same lady that she should only expect to hear from him when there was a precise purpose in writing. In another aspect this was perhaps a reflection of his concentrated efficiency and disciplined use of his time. As bishop he kept up with personal correspondence during meetings while contributing effectively to the business at hand. He had great powers of absorption which served him both in scholarship and in practical affairs. From the time of his Merton fellowship contemporaries were impressed by his ability to isolate the central issues in a discussion, and without delay propose a moderate settlement which sized up both the situation and the parties involved in it.

This sketch conveys an effective but hardly an attractive personality. Yet Creighton inspired as much affection as admiration. The other side of him was found in the romping parent who enchanted his own children and others with his boisterous play and fanciful imagination. On a visit to Sandringham the bishop alarmed bystanders by the freedom with which he repeatedly tossed the future Edward VIII into the air, to the child's delight. All his life he puzzled or shocked those of more conventional outlook by the paradoxes of his conversation, throwing off epigrams as they occurred to him in the exchanges of dialogue. He had a great sense of fun, he was approachable, and even in his reproofs he usually retained the victim's friendship. Despite these abilities he was modest in his own estimate of them: ‘my reputation is always a surprise to myself’, he wrote shortly before going to London, ‘I never tried to make a hit, and never consider anything but the need for simplicity and straightforwardness. But I am writing a panegyric of myself’ (Life and Letters, 2.200). About the same time he wrote to a friend who had sought his advice:
Life is a sum of relationships. There is no independent or self-centred existence … The Christian claim is that my life, my capacities, my relationships are part of an eternal order running through the universe, beginning and ending in God. Nothing short of this conception gives happiness or strength or reality. (ibid., 2.211)
At the centre of this far from simple man was his faith in his risen Saviour.The two sides of Creighton's personality may be discerned in his appearance. There were the striking head with its prominent brow and nose below the receding hair, the level gaze, the full but carefully nurtured beard. At the same time there was a playful quality in the expression of his refined mouth, in his lively eyes, and the positioning of the gold-rimmed lenses which are a feature of so many photographs. His eldest son recorded his father's capacity to overawe and enchant his children at the same time. He was tall enough to be imposing in clerical robes, erect and trim, and he was fully aware of the impression which he could make. He could project his voice without effort.

Bishop of Peterborough, 1891–1897

The diocese of Peterborough, to which Creighton was consecrated on 25 April 1891, was a comfortable place to find his feet as a bishop. Not too large, it was homogeneous in its rural population with two considerable industrial towns, Leicester and Northampton, for variety. When he left for London in 1897 the bishop could justly recall the sense of solidarity which he and his clergy had shared. He gave a lot of thought and effort to guiding their ministries. He recognized the importance of their not being left behind in the currents of popular knowledge or theological change and he built up a library in the palace for their use. He brought them to Peterborough on retreat. He urged them to get to know their parishioners and identify with their hopes and problems. He emphasized the importance of the daily offices, the value of their regular and public observance having been evident to him during his time at Embleton. He gave close attention to ordinands and delighted in confirmations: not every bishop was careful about these standard duties. Recognizing the church's opportunity and its obligation to evangelize the industrial classes, he took up residence in Leicester for a period each year. He encouraged church extension and missions, although he had been doubtful about the value of the latter when he had a parish of his own. As at Embleton he had excellent relations with nonconformists, for he understood that the need for Christian ministry overwhelmed the resources available for it. Particularly, his concern and advice were instrumental in helping to settle the bitter strike of 1895 in the boot and shoe trades in Leicester and Northampton.

This fortunate period was punctuated by the completion of his History of the Papacy (volume five being published in 1894), the preparation and delivery of the Hulsean lectures at Cambridge, in 1893–4, the Rede lecture in 1895, and a short visit to Moscow in 1896 to attend the coronation of Nicholas II as representative of the Church of England, a visit from which he drew a favourable impression of the close association of church and state in Orthodox Russia. In an official visit, for which the tsar's minister responsible for the Orthodox was his guide, he did not get beyond surface impressions.

Bishop of London, 1897–1901

Creighton was enthroned as bishop of London on 30 January 1897. If Peterborough was a tranquil charge, the bishopric of London was the opposite. Its problems, social and ecclesiastical, resulted from the unceasing growth of the capital: the churches of the City of London were too many and too rich, while those of the sprawling suburbs and crowded slums were too few and often too poor. Every form of ecclesiastical taste was represented amid its population, with church attendance ranging from crowded to deserted according to the charisma and capacity of the incumbent and the nature of the parish. Issues which troubled the national church at large were generally more acute in the metropolitan diocese. To the discussions at the council of bishops between 1897 and 1901, before whom Archbishop Temple laid the problem of keeping Anglican clergy loyal to the order prescribed in the prayer book, Bishop Creighton contributed his concerns about ritual, theological training, and the more manageable question of the conservation of episcopal and parochial records. By virtue of his office he had responsibility for Anglicans in parts of Europe and in the colonies overseas. He was too ill in the autumn of 1900 to conduct the routine visitation of his diocese himself; but the questions to which he sought answers indicate the wide range of his concerns. In addition to the inevitable questions about church order and discipline, he wanted to know about the state of parish schools and other parochial organizations, how his clergy and people got on with other denominations, their relations with labour organizations, and their contribution to the work of local authorities. His official act books record the continual preoccupations of his formal functions: ordinations, collations, resignations and institutions, grants of licences for various purposes, commissions to act on his behalf, and the appointment of diocesan officers. The unrelenting pressure of private correspondence is evident in the dozen or so large volumes in which inward letters are preserved and which his widow digested so effectively in the second volume of her memoir. London had more than its share of ‘difficult’ clergymen. Thirty folios of the collection of letters for 1898, for example, convey the successive grievances of one cantankerous priest, the Revd William Adamson of Old Ford. Quarrels, many provoked by the combative Protestant Truth Society and its leader John Kensit, and questions about ritual took much more of the bishop's time than he wished. His replies on these and other matters of pastoral guidance had to be fitted into the crowded calendar of functions which he could not refuse; and letters alone were frequently insufficient.


In face of the burden of these daily trivialities Creighton strove to retain his settled vision of the church's purpose, his keen intelligence, his confidence in the capacities of human nature guided by Christian faith, his trust in common sense (his own and other people's), his sense of humour, and his service to a Lord who bade his followers to love one another. After earlier discomfort at the end of 1899, ulcers put him to bed in September 1900 for prolonged rest. Confined to Fulham Palace, he still conducted some diocesan business. Notably he brought together under his own roof those who held opposing views about the celebration of holy communion so that they might understand each other's positions. By Christmas he had undergone a second operation, and he died on 14 January 1901 at his palace, eight days before the death of Queen Victoria, when his wife had been writing to her sister of her hopes for his recovery. He was buried in St Paul's Cathedral on 17 January.

The memorial to Creighton in St Paul's carries two inscriptions: ‘He tried to write true history’, his own choice; and ‘I determined to know nothing among you save Jesus Christ’, which his widow also used on the title-page of her memoir. Creighton's reputation as a bishop was soon obscured by his more enduring reputation as a historian. Yet the mind of the churchman had fruitfully informed his historical work throughout his life.

Creighton as historian

Creighton was a great figure of the late-Victorian Church of England—when he went to London not a few thought that he was due to succeed Benson at Canterbury; but he is remembered as a historian. Fashion no longer gives pride of place to the subjects which interested Creighton; yet because his concern was with the discipline as much as with the content of his work, and because he avoided the advocacy of causes, his work as a historian has continued to be respected. Opinion about the quality of his contribution to historical studies therefore has not altered much since his death. His great Catholic contemporary, Lord Acton, attributed Creighton's detachment as a commentator to his ‘serene curiosity’; and he criticized him for evoking the ephemeral personalities of fifteenth-century popes at the cost of appreciating the tradition of the institution. He looked for much more explicit censure on the Renaissance popes. Creighton's moral conviction was no less certain, but as historian he refused to stray far from contemporary sources and aimed for clear-sighted analysis of complicated issues, reducing them to connections which a general reader could follow. Lytton Strachey found the result a dry biscuit, but Canon Jenkins noted the ‘zest and vigour’ with which Creighton painted pictures of men and events in their contemporary setting. His repeated holidays abroad familiarized him with many of those places. His historical output was the result of a clear intellect and an artistic imagination, but his standards and methods were honed by his ability to read the work of the leading German historians of his time. He translated into English a volume of Ranke, and at Cambridge he introduced what Mrs Creighton demurely calls ‘conversation classes’—seminars on the German model—as a regular part of his teaching.

In 1893–4 Creighton delivered the Hulsean lectures on ‘Persecution and tolerance’ and in 1895, also in Cambridge, the Rede lecture on ‘The early Renaissance in England’. A year later in Oxford he gave the Romanes lecture on ‘The English national character’. In November 1896 he accepted the invitation to write an introductory chapter for the projected Cambridge Modern History; but two years later he had to admit that the church's business left him no time for it. The five volumes of the History of the Papacy are certainly his chief contribution, a work which stands up to critical scrutiny for its judgements, selection, and compression; but he was equally concerned with the impact of the Reformation in England. While far from confined to ecclesiastical questions, his successive studies of Wolsey (1888) and the reign of Elizabeth I (1896)—a period which he noted as barely suitable for undergraduate study because everything in England was then undergoing such rapid change—are limpid interpretations of those times, and influenced the understanding and curiosity of the generation which followed him. As well as editing the English Historical Review for its first five years, he edited two series of historical outlines. By intention none of this historical production was beyond the range of the educated general reader. Outstanding as his abilities were, Creighton never lost sight of ordinary men and women.

C. M. D. Crowder


L. von Glehn Creighton, Life and letters of Mandell Creighton, 2 vols. (1904) · DNB · QR, 193 (1901), 584–622 · W. G. Fallows, Mandell Creighton and the English church (1964) · C. Jenkins, ‘Bishop Creighton's view of history’, Church Quarterly Review, 109 (1930), 193–238 · G. Carnell, ‘Mandell Creighton, bishop, 1891–1897’, The bishops of Peterborough, 1541–1991 (1993) · O. Chadwick, Creighton on Luther: an inaugural lecture (1959) · D. L. Edwards, ‘Creighton and Davidson’, Leaders of the Church of England, 1828–1944 (1971) · J. T. Covert, ‘Mandell Creighton and English education’, diss., University of Oregon, 1967 · E. A. Knox, Reminiscences of an octogenarian (1934) · M. C. Burson, ‘Historical judgement and the Victorian churchman: a study in the historical thought and outlook of Mandell Creighton’, MA diss., Graduate Theological Union, Berkeley, California, 1971 · E. W. Gosse, ‘Mandell Creighton’, Portraits and sketches (1912) · L. Strachey, ‘Six English historians: Hume, Gibbon, Macaulay, Carlyle, Froude, Creighton’, in L. Strachey, Portraits in miniature, and other essays (1931), 139–218 · Memoir of a Victorian woman: reflections of Louise Creighton, 1850–1936, ed. J. T. Covert (1994) · [J. R. L. Highfield], ‘Merton in the nineteenth century’, in G. H. Martin and J. R. L. Highfield, A history of Merton College, Oxford (1997), 279–324


GL, bishop's act book, MS 9532A/10, 11 · LPL, corresp. and papers as bishop of London |  Borth. Inst., corresp. with second Viscount Halifax · CUL, letters from first Lord Acton; letters to Lord Acton · GL, episcopal visitations, 1900, MS 9539/24 · JRL, letters to E. A. Freeman · LPL, records of bishops' meetings, MS BM4 · LPL, Louise Creighton, collection of her letters, MS 3677 · LPL, corresp. with Edward Benson · Merton Oxf., register 1.5 · Merton Oxf., Wagner's album · NL Ire., corresp. with Alice Stopford Green


H. H. Brown, oils, exh. RA 1896, Emmanuel College, Cambridge · H. H. Brown, portrait, 1896, Peterborough Cathedral Palace, Peterborough · H. von Herkomer, enamel on metal, 1896, Merton Oxf. · H. von Herkomer, oils, 1902, Fulham Palace; version, NPG · W. H. Thornycroft, bronze statue on monument, exh. RA 1906, St Paul's Cathedral, London · W. & D. Downey, woodburytype photograph, NPG; repro. in W. Downey and D. Downey, Cabinet portrait gallery, 4 (1893) [see illus.] · F. T. D. [F. T. Dalton], watercolour study, NPG; repro. in VF (22 April 1897) · W. H. Thornycroft, bronze bust, LPL · photograph, NPG · photographs, repro. in Creighton, Life and letters

Wealth at death  

£30,741: resworn probate, July 1901, CGPLA Eng. & Wales