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Wordsworth, Charleslocked

  • John Wordsworth
  • , revised by H. C. G. Matthew

Charles Wordsworth (1806–1892)

by unknown photographer

Wordsworth, Charles (1806–1892), Scottish Episcopal bishop of St Andrews, Dunkeld, and Dunblane, the second son of Christopher Wordsworth (1774–1846), master of Trinity College, Cambridge, was nephew of William Wordsworth, the poet, and elder brother of Christopher Wordsworth (1807–1885), bishop of Lincoln.

Education and early years, 1806–1835

Charles was born at Lambeth on 22 August 1806, his father then being chaplain to Archbishop Manners-Sutton. His mother, Priscilla, née Lloyd, died in 1815 at the age of thirty-three, and Mrs Hoare, widow of the banker Samuel Hoare of Hampstead, and his sister, did much to supply a mother's place. At Sevenoaks School, near his father's benefice of Sundridge, he began to show his taste for Latin verse and cricket. In 1820, when his brothers went to Winchester, Charles, having somewhat delicate health, was sent to the milder discipline of Harrow School, to which his friend and neighbour H. E. (later Cardinal) Manning was also sent. Other contemporaries were the two Merivales, Herman and Charles (later dean of Ely), and the two Trenches, Francis and Richard (later the archbishop of Dublin). Here his special tastes abundantly developed. Charles Merivale called him 'king of our cricket field', though his nervousness prevented him from making high scores in set matches. His name must, however, always be associated with the history of the game. He played in the first regular Eton and Harrow match in 1822, in the first Winchester and Harrow match in 1825, and he brought about the first Oxford and Cambridge match in 1827. He had also much to do with the first Oxford and Cambridge boat race in 1829. He played tennis at Oxford, and was an excellent skater until late in life. He did not take to golf, which he never played until he reached the age of eighty-four. He was brilliant as a classical scholar, and in writing Greek and Latin verses he became a poet. Latin-verse composition was his peculiar delight and solace to the end of his long life.

Wordsworth's Harrow successes were crowned by greater distinctions at Christ Church, Oxford, which he entered in 1825 as a commoner, Charles Thomas Longley and Thomas Vowler Short being his tutors. His Virgilian poem on Mexico, with which he won the chancellor's prize for Latin verse in 1827, led to his obtaining a studentship in 1827 from Dean Smith. He took his degree (first-class classics) in the spring of 1830, and then taught private pupils (colleges at that time providing little individual tuition), including James Hope (Scott), W. E. Gladstone, H. E. Manning, Francis Doyle, Walter Kerr Hamilton, Lord Lincoln (later fifth duke of Newcastle), Thomas Dyke-Acland, Charles Canning, and Francis Popham.

In September 1831 Charles went with William Wordsworth and Dora, his uncle and cousin, on their last visit to Sir Walter Scott at Abbotsford. From July 1833 to June 1834 he travelled as tutor to Lord Cantelupe in Germany, Denmark, Sweden, and Norway, returning by Greifswald and Berlin, where he learnt something of German university education, and became more or less acquainted with professors Schleiermacher, Neander, Böckh, Henning, Immanuel Bekker, and D. F. Strauss. He also visited Dresden and Leipzig. In the same summer he travelled in France with Roundell Palmer (later Lord Selborne). After Palmer's departure he met in Paris Charlotte (d. 1839), the orphan daughter of the Revd George Day of Earsham, near Bungay, to whom he became engaged to be married. On his return to Christ Church he was appointed to a public tutorship by Gaisford (dean in 1831), and was ordained deacon by Bishop Bagot of Oxford on 21 December 1834. He did not proceed to the priesthood until six years later, on 13 December 1840.

Teaching at Winchester, 1835–1846

At midsummer 1835 Wordsworth was elected second master of Winchester College. The mastership had never been held except by a Wykehamist. The office brought him an opportunity for the exercise of his special faculty of teaching as well as valuable experience of management, involving the internal control of the ancient college and its seventy scholars. He enjoyed there not only the intimate friendship of Warden Barter but close companionship with George Moberly, the headmaster (later bishop of Salisbury), and frequent meetings with John Keble at Hursley. Wordsworth's marriage to Charlotte Day followed on 29 December 1835 in Norwich Cathedral, and his married life was extremely happy. But his wife died after giving birth to her only child, a daughter (Charlotte Emmeline), on 10 May 1839. Her death was followed on 31 December 1839 by that of his elder brother John Wordsworth [see under Wordsworth, Christopher (1774-1846)].

Wordsworth and Warden Barter (who initiated the sermons in chapel) were largely responsible for bringing about a new period in the religious life of England's oldest public school. Wordsworth's efforts were directed chiefly to revitalizing the traditional system of the place. He succeeded in instituting a set time for private prayer, and the chapel service was much improved, partly by the efforts of John Pyke Hullah. Wordsworth was orthodox but not narrow. He inherited from his father and his friends, such as Joshua Watson and Hugh James Rose, the traditions of the old high-church Anglicanism, to which he added much of the zeal of the Oxford Movement, while his Quaker connections gave him broader and more evangelical sympathies.

Wordsworth's Winchester life and its aspirations and successes are reflected in several books. His churchmanship was developed to its highest point in a sermon, Evangelical Repentance (1841; with large appendix, 1842). He published several volumes of sermons and addresses, as well as The College of St Mary, Winton, near Winchester (1848). His greatest success in scholarship was the production of a Greek grammar (Graecae grammaticae rudimenta), which for a long time was the chief Greek grammar in England. Among his scholastic methods was the learning of Latin prose (Cicero) by heart by every boy. He was an able translator, as his translations of the hymns of Ken and Keble, published in 1845, show.

At the beginning of 1846 Wordsworth resigned his post at Winchester, partly on account of his father's failing health (he died on 2 February 1846). In the spring he preached a farewell sermon and edited his addresses, published as Christian Boyhood at a Public School (1846) in two volumes.

Warden of Trinity College, 1846–1852

Shortly after delivering his farewell sermon Wordsworth accepted the offer made by his former pupil Gladstone of the wardenship of the new Episcopalian Trinity College then being founded at Glenalmond, Perthshire. The scheme for founding this college, which was to be a training college for ordination candidates and a public school for boys, was first broached by James Hope and Gladstone in 1841, and was encouraged by Dean Ramsay in Edinburgh. Much money was collected for it in England as well as among the Scottish gentry, and in September 1844 the site was chosen, being the gift of George Patton. The buildings, designed by Sir Gilbert Scott, were soon in progress, but it was not until 8 September 1846 that the first stone of the chapel was laid by Sir John Gladstone. On 28 October Wordsworth entered on a second marriage, with Katharine Mary (d. 23 April 1897), the eldest daughter of William Barter, rector of Burghclere, Hampshire, and niece of his friend the warden of Winchester. They had twelve children, five sons and seven daughters, of whom three sons and five daughters survived him.

When Trinity College opened in May 1847, Wordsworth began with fourteen boys, the first being the eighth marquess of Lothian; two others were sons of Bishop Ewing of Argyll. The divinity students came about a year later. Notwithstanding the difficulties attaching to such joint education, Wordsworth made it a success, and was aggrieved when the elder students were settled in Edinburgh in 1876. The school discipline was naturally much based on that of Winchester; the prefectorial system was instituted and school games encouraged. Even a school for servitors was established (1848), somewhat after the older model. The chapel, which was in great part Wordsworth's gift to the college (consecrated on 1 May 1851), was the centre of daily life. All students wore surplices, and all were taught to sing. The success was great and real. The Scottish office for holy communion was used (by the bishop's desire) alternately with the English. Three Sermons on Holy Communion (1855) worthily embodies Wordsworth's teaching to his boys on this subject.

During his time at Glenalmond, Wordsworth gradually became interested in Scottish church questions. Unfortunately his interest took largely the form of criticism of the actions of Patrick Torry, bishop of St Andrews, Dunkeld, and Dunblane, his diocesan, and of Gladstone, the leading member of the college council. Bishop Torry's Prayer Book (1850) was the first book since 1637 purporting to be a complete and independent Scottish prayer book, and it gave offence to many. Wordsworth censured it in seven letters to The Guardian newspaper, and led the condemnation of it in the diocesan synod. His opposition to Gladstone was on the subject of the duty of church establishment, of which Wordsworth was always, as Gladstone had been, a staunch upholder. Wordsworth refused his vote to Gladstone, who became candidate for Oxford first in 1847, and in sermons and letters lost no opportunity of showing his opposition to Gladstone's views.

Bishop of St Andrews: disputed election and ecclesiastical differences, 1852–1863

Bishop Torry died on 3 October 1852. Wordsworth was one of the seventeen presbyters with whom the election of a successor lay. He and Bishop Eden of Moray were nominated for the vacancy. The electors (excluding himself) were exactly divided, eight against eight. The decisive voice was in his hands, and he was persuaded, in accordance with precedent, to vote for himself, in order to counteract what he regarded as the dangerous policy of his opponents. Owing to some informality the process had to be repeated, his rival on the second occasion being Dr T. G. Suther (later bishop of Aberdeen). On appeal to the bishops of the Scottish church, Wordsworth's election was upheld. He retained his wardenship with the bishopric until 1854. He left seventy boys in the college, and reported that there had been on average five divinity students each year.

Elected bishop of St Andrews, Dunkeld, and Dunblane on 30 November 1852, Wordsworth was consecrated at St Andrew's Church, Aberdeen, on 25 January 1853. The principles on which he acted in this office were mainly three: to prevent the capture of the Scottish Episcopal church by a narrow party, especially by a party made up of Englishmen and controlled from England; to convince the Scots of the value of episcopacy and episcopal ordinances; to make some concessions to presbyterians by which they might be conciliated, the main principle of episcopacy being saved (Wordsworth, Episcopate 37–9). Wordsworth was a strong believer in the duty of establishment of religion where it was possible and in the synodal system. He held different opinions on the place of the laity in church synods at different times, but ended by advocating their presence and right to vote (ibid., 194).

There was no episcopal residence, and Wordsworth, after leaving Glenalmond, moved from place to place before settling down finally at Perth, first at Pitcullen Bank (Easter 1856 to 1858) and then at the Feu House (1858 to October 1876). He was thus brought into close connection with the cathedral of St Ninian, a venture supported chiefly by two men who had little or no connection with the diocese (Lord Forbes and G. F. Boyle, afterwards earl of Glasgow), and run chiefly by high-churchmen from England. He felt it a costly experiment for a poorly endowed diocese, but in many respects he sympathized with it. His wise treatment of its affairs in his first synods conciliated his opponents. But when he came to live permanently in Perth, and tried to make St Ninian's his own church, a fundamental divergence between himself and Provost Fortescue and Precentor Humble showed itself.

Unfortunately the eucharistic controversy was introduced in an acute form into Scotland by Alexander Penrose Forbes, bishop of Brechin, in his ‘primary charge’, delivered in 1857. Not only was high doctrine taught, but it was taught ex cathedra, and with rigorous logic, as necessary truth, and scant regard was shown for the traditional teaching of the Scottish church. Agitation followed, and the storm was further intensified by the publication in January 1858 of Six Sermons by the Revd Cheyne of St John's, Aberdeen; Cheyne went further than Forbes, and put the same kind of doctrines in a more provocative and more nearly Roman form. Forbes's charge was censured in a pastoral letter drafted by Wordsworth (27 May 1858), in which all the six remaining bishops concurred. This was followed by the suspension of Cheyne by the bishop of Aberdeen on 5 August and by the issue of Wordsworth's very valuable 'Notes to assist towards a right judgment on the eucharistic controversy' (September 1858), with a 'Supplement' dated Advent. These 'Notes' were never published, but circulated privately, especially among the clergy. Cheyne was declared to be no longer a clergyman of the Episcopal church (9 November 1859). On 3 October 1859 proceedings were formally instituted against Bishop Forbes.

The same year saw an open breach between Wordsworth and the cathedral clergy. The points at issue were the attempt to reopen the cathedral school, the ‘cathedral declaration’ on the eucharist, and certain ritual matters. Wordsworth left the cathedral, and did not return to it except to perform some necessary episcopal acts, such as confirmation, for more than twelve years (1859–72). He did his best, however, to stave off proceedings in Bishop Forbes's case, and published anonymously Proposals for Peace. The trial took place in February and March 1860, and Wordsworth delivered an ‘opinion’ which had previously been approved by George Forbes, the bishop's brother. The court unanimously censured and admonished Bishop Forbes, but with the least possible severity. Cheyne later on tendered some explanations, and was restored in 1863. Wordsworth's attitude in the controversy was one of reserve, working for united action, and refraining from public demonstrations on his own part.

Reunion proposals and further controversy, 1863–1882

The restoration of peace and the simultaneous revival experienced by the episcopal and presbyterian communions gave an opening for that reunion work which Wordsworth had deeply at heart. His powerful synodal and other addresses in these years brought the question well forward, and at one time an important conference was in prospect. His most popular contribution was a sermon, 'Euodias and Syntyche', preached in 1867 (published 1869). The foundation of a school chapel at Perth in 1866, of which the bishop was practically incumbent, was a relief to him after his disappointments with the cathedral. An important and successful conference of clergy and laity was held at Perth in 1868, and the bishop had hopes of getting the question of the admission of laymen to church synods sympathetically treated by the general synod. By the friendly generosity of Bishop W. K. Hamilton a sum of some £200 a year was added to his income from 1866 to 1871, when he obtained a fellowship at Winchester, a matter of great comfort to him.

But, with these exceptions, the years that remained at Perth were a period of depression. Provost Fortescue resigned in 1871, and in his place Wordsworth appointed John Burton, who soon came under the influence of Precentor Humble. The struggles of 1859 were repeated in 1872 over the ‘Perth nunnery’ and alleged breaches of faith in regard to ritual. Wordsworth's charge in this year led to an indictment of the bishop by Humble before the episcopal synod, which was unanimously dismissed on 27 March 1873. After various negotiations with the chapter, the bishop in April 1874 announced his intention of resigning. But he took no steps to make it effective. He then established a modus vivendi with Burton, but he was never easy in his relations with the chapter as long as he remained at Perth. Humble's death on 7 February 1876 removed the chief actor in these disputes.

During this period Wordsworth published On Shakespeare's Knowledge and Use of the Bible (1864; 3rd edn 1880). In 1866 his Greek grammar was adopted by the headmasters of England. In 1870 he became one of the New Testament revisers, but before the revision was completed in 1881 he expressed his reasons for differing from the action of the majority, who, he thought, made far too many changes. In 1872 he published an important volume, Outlines of the Christian Ministry, which was supplemented in 1879 by Remarks on Dr Lightfoot's Essay.

In October 1876 Wordsworth left Perth for St Andrews. He first resided at The Hall (hitherto a hall for episcopalian students attending the university), which he called Bishop's Hall or Bishopshall; it later became St Leonard's Girls' School. In 1887 he moved to a smaller house on the Scores, which he called Kilrymont, the former name of St Andrews. St Andrews brought him opportunities of once again influencing young men, and introduced him into the congenial literary society formed by the professors of the university. Most of these were presbyterians, and this revived his hopefulness in reunion work. The new efforts may be dated from his sermon at the consecration of Edinburgh Cathedral on 30 October 1879. In the spring of 1884 the bishop received the honorary degree of DD from the universities of St Andrews and Edinburgh, and began a practice of occasionally preaching in presbyterian churches in connection with academic functions, especially in the college church at St Andrews, where he preached about once a year until 1888.

In May 1884 Wordsworth published an article in the Scottish Church Review entitled 'Union or separation', which suggested reunion, with optional Episcopal ordination for presbyterians. The alarm excited by this proposal led to his being denied his proper place at the Seabury commemoration at Aberdeen in October 1884. His charge of September 1885, The Case of Non-Episcopal Ordination Fairly Considered, is in the same line. The fullest and most logical expression of the scheme is given in a letter to Archbishop Benson in preparation for the Lambeth conference, dated 24 May 1888, and entitled Ecclesiastical Union between England and Scotland, his most important publication on the subject.

Later years, death, and reputation, 1882–1892

Wordsworth's relations with his own cathedral began to improve after the move to St Andrews, and from 1882 onwards he held his synods again there. In 1885 Provost Burton died, and the Revd Rorison of Forfar accepted the offer of his position. The cathedral now became a thoroughly diocesan institution. From 1886 to 1890 some £8000 was spent on it. The chapter house, with Wordsworth's library presented by his sons, is his memorial. Wordsworth was severely ill in the winter of 1890–91, but he delivered one more important charge, that on Old Testament criticism, in October 1891, and saw the appearance and rapid success of the first volume of his autobiographical Annals (1891). His charge of 1892 was delivered in his absence by the dean. Wordsworth died at St Andrews on 5 December 1892; he was buried in the cathedral yard, and a memorial tablet was erected.

Wordsworth left his own communion in a much higher position in public opinion than when he first came to the country, and this change was in part due to his courage, persistent energy, and ability. In appearance he was tall and handsome, with a strong and prepossessing countenance, set off by brown curly hair and brightened by a winning smile. He had a taste and a talent for friendship, and numbered among his firmest friends bishops W. K. Hamilton and T. L. Claughton, and Roundell Palmer, Lord Selborne. In disposition he was generous, and free in expense. He was very accurate and orderly, even in trifles, and expected others to be so. His character, as well as his experience as a teacher, made him critical, and he could be occasionally severe, and he was therefore sometimes misjudged. He was on the one hand impulsive and eager, and on the other sensitive and subject to fits of depression; on the whole he was sanguine and resolute, and gifted with much perseverance and consistency. He published frequently and on a variety of subjects, with works on Scottish religious history in 1861 and 1881, an edition of Shakespeare's historical plays (3 vols., 1883), further Latin translations, and numerous pamphlets; there is a bibliography of his works in his biography by his nephew John Wordsworth.


  • J. Wordsworth, The episcopate of Charles Wordsworth, bishop of St Andrews (1899)
  • C. Wordsworth, Annals of my early life, 1806–1846: with occasional compositions in Latin and English verse, ed. W. E. Hodgson, 2 vols. (1891–3)
  • G. St Quentin, The history of Glenalmond (1956)


  • LPL, corresp.
  • NL Scot., sermons, corresp., and papers
  • Wordsworth Trust, Dove Cottage, Grasmere, corresp.
  • BL, corresp. with W. E. Gladstone, Add. MS 44346
  • LPL, corresp. with Lord Selborne
  • NL Scot., letters to J. S. Blackie
  • NL Scot., letters to J. R. Hope–Scott
  • University of Dundee, corresp. with Alexander Forbes


  • G. Richmond, portrait, 1840; formerly in the headmaster's house at Winchester College, 1900
  • W. Walker, stipple, pubd 1848 (after G. Richmond), BM
  • H. T. Munns, portrait, 1882
  • G. Horsburgh, oils, 1893; formerly in the possession of Mr W. B. Wordsworth, 1900
  • W. L. Colls, engraving (after H. T. Munns, 1882), repro. in Wordsworth, Episcopate of Charles Wordsworth
  • T. Rodger, carte-de-visite, NPG
  • engraving (after G. Richmond), Winchester College, Hampshire
  • photograph, NPG [see illus.]
  • wood-engraving (after photograph), BM; repro. in ILN (10 Dec 1892)

Wealth at Death

£21,011 9s. 7d.: confirmation, 24 Feb 1893, CCI

W. E. Gladstone , ed. M. R. D. Foot & H. C. G. Matthew, 14 vols. (1968–94)