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Hurd, Richardlocked

  • G. M. Ditchfield
  •  and Sarah Brewer

Richard Hurd (1720–1808)

by Thomas Gainsborough, exh. RA 1781

The Royal Collection © 2004 HM Queen Elizabeth II

Hurd, Richard (1720–1808), bishop of Worcester, was born on 13 January 1720 at Congreve, in the parish of Penkridge, Staffordshire, the second of the three children of John Hurd (1685–1755), a yeoman farmer, and his wife, Hannah (c.1685–1773). He was educated at a 'good Grammar school at Brewood' (Dates of some occurrences) by Mr Hillman and then by William Budworth. On 3 October 1733 he was admitted to Emmanuel College, Cambridge, but he did not go up to the university until 1735, when he matriculated; he was admitted BA in February 1739 and MA in July 1742. In June 1742 he had been ordained deacon by Bishop Joseph Butler on the title of the curacy of Reymerston, Norfolk, obtained for him through the influence of his early patron, the collector Cox Macro. But in December he returned to Emmanuel, having been elected to a fellowship, and he remained there for the next fourteen years, during which time he was moderately active in college and in university politics. While there he also forged a number of friendships that were to endure for, and colour, the rest of his life. Two of these, with William Mason and Thomas Gray, suggest the interest in literary and critical matters that particularly occupied Hurd at this time and in which he was to establish his intellectual reputation.

In 1749 Hurd published an edition of Horace's Ars poetica modelled on William Warburton's editing of Pope's Dunciad. His acknowledgement of Warburton's influence initiated a correspondence and close friendship—revealed most clearly in Hurd's defence of Warburton, On the Delicacy of Friendship (1755)—which lasted until the latter's death in 1779. The Ars poetica was followed in 1751 by an edition of Horace's Epistola ad Augustum; these two texts eventually went through five editions. Hurd's major literary works, however, all appeared between 1759 and 1764. First came a series of imaginary conversations, the popular Moral and Political Dialogues (1759), followed in 1764 by another set, The Uses of Foreign Travel. Between these he produced his most influential critical work, Letters on Chivalry and Romance (1762), which was an immediate success. This was significant not least for its appreciation of 'Gothic Romance' (R. Hurd, Works, 4.329) and consequently its role in stimulating a revival of interest in medieval and Renaissance English literature. But the main drive of the Letters was its affirmation of the power of the imagination, and the justification of the realms into which it can lead us.

Literary interests, however, did not inhibit the development of Hurd's clerical career. He had been ordained priest in 1744, and in 1750, thanks to Warburton's recommendation, he was appointed to a Whitehall preachership, an institution designed to encourage promising young clergy from the universities. He also revealed a taste for religious controversy. His first work, published in 1746, had been a reply to William Weston's Enquiry into the Rejection of the Christian Miracles. Then, in 1757, in collaboration with Warburton, he produced Remarks on Mr David Hume's Essay on the Natural History of Religion: this was written primarily by Warburton but with additions by Hurd. In the previous year he had been nominated to the college living of Thurcaston, in Leicestershire. This took Hurd away from the scholarly atmosphere of Cambridge to a rural 'retirement' (Early Letters, 328), the solitude of which allowed him to devote himself to his studies. Four years later, in 1760, Warburton appointed him his chaplain, and then, in 1765, he was appointed preacher at Lincoln's Inn. The acquisition of this London pulpit does not appear to have spurred his ambition. In 1769 he wrote to Thomas Balguy in mild admonition of what appear to have been the grumblings of thwarted ambition: 'are there no objects of desire … but deaneries or bishoprics?' (Kilvert, 106). None the less the appointment to the preachership marks a decisive point in Hurd's life: he all but abandoned his critical writing and committed himself to a career in the church.

As preacher at Lincoln's Inn, Hurd soon attracted favourable attention. He had chambers where he could entertain such literary friends as Thomas Warton. Preferment soon followed: in 1767 he was made archdeacon of Gloucester and rector of Dursley, in that diocese. In the following year the degree of DD was conferred on him by Cambridge University and he was appointed the first of the Warburtonian lecturers, whose brief was 'for the illustration of the argument in favour of Christianity derived from prophecy' (Kilvert, 101). His twelve sermons were preached in the chapel of Lincoln's Inn, drew large audiences, and in 1772 were published as An Introduction to the Study of the Prophecies Concerning the Christian Church, and in Particular Concerning the Church of Rome. A fifth edition appeared in 1788. This work provoked a private—and friendly—debate with Edward Gibbon over the authenticity of the book of Daniel; Hurd's letter to Gibbon on this subject (29 August 1772) was published in the latter's Miscellaneous Works in 1796. In fact in common with many clergymen Hurd disapproved of Gibbon's History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, describing the third volume in particular as 'polluted everywhere by the most immoral as well as irreligious insinuations' (to Balguy, 7 July 1788; Kilvert, 166).

In 1774, through the influence of Lord Mansfield and with the warm approval of George III, Hurd was nominated in succession to the prime minister's half-brother Brownlow North to the bishopric of Coventry and Lichfield; he was consecrated on 12 February 1775. He described Lichfield as 'on all accounts an eligible see, the value about eighteen hundred pounds a year' (Kilvert, 123). In the House of Lords he was a loyal supporter of Lord North's administration, dismissing opposition as factious and malignant. He was strongly critical of the American rebels and when preaching the fast sermon before the Lords on 13 December 1776 described the colonial revolt as a divine punishment for British sin. His courtier-like qualities led to his appointment in June 1776 as preceptor to George, prince of Wales, and to Prince Frederick, while his theological orthodoxy appealed to the king, with whom he developed a warm personal friendship. Although he had expressed some private sympathy with the Feathers tavern petitioners in 1772 he privately expressed vehement distaste for the Dissenters Relief Bill of 1779, which substituted a simple declaration of belief in the scriptures for subscription to the Thirty-Nine Articles. While accepting that 'Nobody … ought to be punished for religious opinions' he complained that the dissenters operated on the 'horrid principle' of the independence of the civil power and the separation of church and state (ibid., 134–5).

It was apparent that Hurd was destined for higher ecclesiastical preferment, and in 1781 the elevation of Brownlow North to Winchester led to Hurd's succeeding him a second time. He was George III's personal choice as bishop of Worcester, a situation in which he remained for the rest of his life. He discharged his episcopal functions dutifully, holding visitations in person in 1782, 1785, 1790, 1796, and 1800 and carrying out regular confirmations and ordinations. He recognized the economic necessity that lay behind the extensive pluralism in his diocese. At the bishop's residence, Hartlebury Castle, near Stourport, he greatly extended the library, added to it Warburton's books (which he had purchased on the latter's death in 1779), and in 1805 enhanced it further with a gift of books from George III. He did not abandon his literary interests, and maintained a lively correspondence with Thomas Warton and William Mason. He had edited Abraham Cowley's works in 1772, and a six-volume edition of the works of Joseph Addison, based on manuscripts compiled by Hurd, was published in 1811.

In May 1783 George III entreated Hurd to succeed Frederick Cornwallis as archbishop of Canterbury. He declined the offer as 'not suited to his temper and talents' and excessively onerous; he considered the episode as an 'escape' (Kilvert, 146). Dr Johnson is reported to have observed 'I am glad he did not go to Lambeth; for, after all, I fear he is a Whig in his heart' (Boswell, Life, 4.190). He voted against the FoxNorth coalition's India Bill in both closely contested Lords divisions, on 15 and 17 December 1783, thus helping to precipitate the coalition's dismissal by the king. The cordiality of his relations with George III is evident in the king's published correspondence, and was marked by a royal visit to Hartlebury on 2 August 1788, followed by the royal family's stay at the palace in Worcester from 5 to 9 August. Hurd loyally attended the Lords to support William Pitt's ministry over the Regency Bill in the winter of 1788–9. He was predictably hostile to the French Revolution and deplored the attitude taken by the Foxite opposition. At the time of the renewal of war with France in 1803 the king proposed, in the event of invasion, to retire with his family to Hartlebury Castle.

Although several of Hurd's sermons were printed and his charges survive in manuscript he did not produce a great deal of original theological work. In 1788 he published an edition of Warburton's works, in seven volumes, with a flattering biographical account of their author. His correspondence with Warburton, Letters from an Eminent Prelate to One of his Friends, appeared in 1808. He showed himself a true disciple of the author of The Alliance between Church and State when he affirmed to George III in 1801 'Toleration should be allowed to those who dissent from an Establishment & … such Establishments should be guarded by a Test Law' (Later Correspondence of George III, 3.501). He was no friend to Catholic emancipation. In later life he was badly afflicted by gout and he frequently complained of weakness and infirmity. In his visitations of 1803 and 1806 he needed the assistance of the archdeacon and chancellor of the diocese, while in 1803 he admitted that he did not enforce the regulations governing non-residence. He died at Hartlebury Castle, apparently of a bronchial disorder (Kilvert, 190) that had been aggravated by 'frequent attacks of gout and dizziness', on 28 May 1808, and was buried in Hartlebury churchyard on 10 June. He had never married. In a codicil to his will he bequeathed £2000 to Emmanuel College. An edition of his works, in eight volumes, was published in 1811.

Hurd was 'below the middle height, of slight make, but well proportioned' (Kilvert, 194). According to his obituary in the Gentleman's Magazine he possessed 'a kind of veneration which in times like the present, could neither be acquired nor preserved but by the exercise of great virtue' (GM, 563). Fanny Burney described his manner as 'dignified, placid, grave and mild, but cold, and rather distancing' (Diary and Letters, 2.260). In private conversation he was urbane, good-humoured, and fond of witty gossip. Though increasingly unsympathetic to dissent in either its rationalistic or enthusiastic forms he was not a high-churchman. His commonplace book contains a carefully worded critique of Archbishop Laud. He regarded the Church of England as the classic via media between Catholic authoritarianism and dissenting libertarianism. By the meritorious nature of his promotion, as well as by his learning and conscientiousness, he represented an important element within the eighteenth-century Anglican tradition.


  • The early letters of Bishop Richard Hurd, 1739–1762, ed. S. Brewer (1995)
  • F. Kilvert, Memoirs of the life and writings of the Right Rev. Richard Hurd (1860)
  • GM, 1st ser., 78 (1808)
  • The correspondence of King George the Third from 1760 to December 1783, ed. J. Fortescue, 6 vols. (1927–8)
  • The later correspondence of George III, ed. A. Aspinall, 5 vols. (1962–70)
  • M. Ransome, ed., The state of the bishopric of Worcester, 1782–1808, Worcestershire Historical Society, new ser., 6 (1968)
  • The correspondence of Thomas Warton, ed. D. Fairer (1995)
  • E. H. Pearce and L. Whibley, eds., The correspondence of Richard Hurd and William Mason, and letters of Richard Hurd to Thomas Gray (1932)
  • N. Sykes, Church and state in England in the XVIII century (1934)
  • [R. Hurd], ‘Dates of some occurrences in my own life’, MS, Hartlebury Castle, Worcestershire
  • D. Eddy, A bibliography of Richard Hurd (1999)
  • A. W. Evans, Warburton and the Warburtonians: a study in some eighteenth-century controversies (1932)
  • Diary and letters of Madame D'Arblay, ed. C. Barrett, 4 vols. (1893)


  • Emmanuel College, Cambridge, records and MSS
  • Hartlebury Castle, Worcestershire, corresp. and MSS
  • Worcs. RO, corresp. and MSS
  • BL, corresp. with C. Macro, Add. MSS 32556–32557
  • BL, letters to W. Warburton and his wife, MS Egerton 1958
  • BL, letters to T. Warton, Add. MSS 42560–42561
  • BL, letters to C. Yorke, Add. MSS 35635–35639
  • NL Scot., letters to Lord Hailes
  • NL Wales, letters to J. Potter
  • Royal Arch., letters to George III
  • Staffs. RO, letters to E. Littleton
  • Yale U., Beinecke L., letters to T. Balguy


  • W. Hoare, 1764, Hartlebury Castle, Worcestershire
  • engraving, 1776
  • I. Gosset, wax medallion, 1778, Hartlebury Castle, Worcestershire
  • T. Gainsborough, oils, exh. RA 1781, Royal Collection [see illus.]
  • J. Barry, group portrait, oils, 1783 (The distribution of premiums in the Society of Arts), RSA
  • engraving, pubd 1783 (after painting formerly at the Queen's Palace, 1783)
  • T. Gainsborough, oils, 1788, Emmanuel College, Cambridge
  • engraving, pubd 1801 (as Bishop of Worcester)
  • J. Neagle, engraving, pubd 1808 (as Bishop of Worcester; after wax model by I. Gosset, 1788)
  • J. Hall, engraving, pubd 1811 (after T. Gainsborough)

Wealth at Death

under £35,000: TNA: PRO, IR 27/136, fol. 267v; will, TNA: PRO, PROB 11/1481, fols. 449v–450v

[J. Le Neve], , ed. J. M. Horn, D. M. Smith, & D. S. Bailey, [9 vols.] (1969–)
J. Nichols, , 9 vols. (1812–16); facs. repr. (1966)
J. Boswell , ed. G. B. Hill, rev. L. F. Powell, 6 vols. (1934–50); 2nd edn (1964); repr. (1971)
J. Venn & J. A. Venn, , 2 pts in 10 vols. (1922–54); repr. in 2 vols. (1974–8)
Gentleman's Magazine
J. Nichols & J. B. Nichols, , 8 vols. (1817–58); repr. (1966)