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Kingsley, Charles (1781–1860), Church of England clergyman, was born near Lymington in Hampshire. His family included some distinguished soldiers, notably General William Kingsley. Brought up as a country gentleman, he was educated at Harrow School and, for two months, at Brasenose College, Oxford. He then retired to Battramsley House near Lymington in the New Forest, where he devoted himself to the pursuits of a country gentleman before discovering, at the age of twenty-six, that all his money had gone. He married Mary (1787–1873), the daughter of Nathan Lucas of Barbados and Rushford Lodge, Norfolk. Mary's organizing ability was a great asset to Kingsley after his funds ran out; when, almost certainly following her advice, he eventually made his career in the church it was Mary who did most of the parish visiting.

In 1807 Kingsley entered Trinity Hall, Cambridge, to study divinity, and nine years later, at the age of thirty-five, graduated from Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge with an LLB degree. While at Trinity Hall he had established a friendship with Herbert Marsh, then Lady Margaret professor of divinity, who became bishop of Peterborough in 1819. The two men shared an interest in the scientific approach to biblical criticism which Marsh had studied in Germany.

After a curacy at Clifton in Nottinghamshire Kingsley became curate at Holne in Devon, where his son , the author, was born in June 1819. So great was Mary Kingsley's love of the Devon countryside that she walked about it constantly during her pregnancy, hoping to communicate this passion to her unborn child. After Holne, the family moved to Burton upon Trent, where Kingsley had been offered the position of curate-in-charge. Then, on 23 January 1824, he was appointed by his old friend the bishop of Peterborough to the rectory of Barnack, near Stamford, in Lincolnshire. In 1830, in accordance with a previous arrangement, Kingsley was succeeded at Barnack by Bishop Marsh's son.

At Barnack Kingsley was able to enjoy field sports and natural history. He now received an income of £1200 a year (to which was added the living of North Clifton, where he had installed a friend as curate). When he was old enough, Charles junior was allowed to accompany his father on shooting expeditions in the fens. Having caught malaria, then prevalent in the fens, Kingsley was advised to return to Devon, where he was presented to the living at Clovelly (worth £350 a year) and encouraged his son's interest in courageous exploits at sea. His younger son became a notable traveller.

In 1836 Kingsley accepted the living of St Luke's, Chelsea, a large and wealthy church, recently built in the neo-Gothic style (which Kingsley hated) to serve the newly built Cadogan estates. His parishioners now numbered thousands, not hundreds. Describing life as a youth in Chelsea, the younger Charles Kingsley wrote of his boredom with the busy parish work in which his parents were absorbed. Charles junior described visitors to the rectory as ugly and splay-footed beings, ‘three-fourths of whom can't sing, and the other quarter sing miles out of tune, with voices like love-sick parrots’ (Chitty, 48). He recalled seeing ‘silly women blown about with every wind, falling in love with the preacher instead of his sermon, and with his sermon instead of the Bible’ (Kingsley, 9).

During the 1830s, when the Oxford Movement was at its height, Kingsley was known to The Times as a significant evangelical, and was one of the earliest Anglican evangelical rectors to work with the London City Mission. He died on 29 February 1860 at the Chelsea rectory, survived by his wife, with his now famous son at his side. He was buried in Brompton cemetery under an epitaph composed by Charles junior which described him as: ‘endowed by God with many noble gifts of mind and body. He preserved through all vicissitudes of fortune a loving heart and stainless honour, and having won in all his various Cures the respect and affection of his people, [he] ruled the Parish of Chelsea well and wisely for more than twenty years.’

Roger Steer


S. Chitty, The beast and the monk: a life of Charles Kingsley (1974) · Charles Kingsley: his letters and memories of his life, ed. F. E. Kingsley, abridged edn (1885) · R. Steer, ‘Kingsley, Charles’, The Blackwell dictionary of evangelical biography, 1730–1860, ed. D. M. Lewis (1995)

Wealth at death  

under £2000: probate, 20 March 1860, CGPLA Eng. & Wales