Interesting Vicars of Penn


Rev. Benjamin Robertshaw – Part 3

Vicar of Penn 1716-28; Rector of Amersham 1728-44

We have seen from Parts 1 & 2 that our former vicar was a vehement High Church Tory who despised Whigs and abhorred Protestant Dissenters, describing them as ‘infidels’ certain to be excluded from heaven. Daniel Baker, his most influential parishioner and a leading Whig, was High Sheriff of the county when he wrote a memorandum of complaint about Robertshaw to the Bishop of Lincoln, setting out all his many faults, including his absence from Penn, his Jacobite sympathies and his hatred of dissenters.

The memorandum led to a furious argument between Robertshaw and his bishop. Robertshaw’s own account makes it clear that the most serious charge against him was ‘my refusing to bury a Presbyterian’s child, sprinkled in their unauthorised way, in my Parish at Penn.’ He wrote, ‘About the year 1721 I was so unfortunate as to fall under the displeasure of my Diocesan … Upon my absolute refusal (to bury the child), the Parents never brought it to the Church Yard at Penn ; but carried it to Wycombe, where it was buried, by one who I suppose would have given X­ian burial even to Pontius Pilate himself, provided he had but in his life-time, used to cry King George for ever. Mr Daniel Baker, a silly but zealous Justice of the Peace in my Parish, officiously complained of me for this to the Bishop. And the Bishop who was then eagerly pursuing Court favour (Bishop Gibson later became Bishop of London): wrote me a very angry letter; & told me such a step tended to make K. G. himself looked on as no Christian: … I answered him; that I thought my business was to find out and & pursue truth & not to regard consequences … & if indeed the case was so, as his lordship represented, I should not alter the Cap, but e’en let it be worn, by all whom it fitted. Upon this he was highly provoked, we at once plunged pretty far into the Controversy about Lay-Baptism, etc …. & in short, I gave him as little quarter as common decency towards a Superior, would admit of …. The truth is, I did use him, as I found he deserved …. He threatened to punish me … I, who knew that an Action would not lie, (meerly because they had neglected to bring the Corps to the Church yard, & there offer it for burial), answered him pertly enough.

However at length the matter drop’t; but not without his making me promise never again to refuse burying such a person; which I was obliged to comply with, or quit my School & go to live at Penn, as he enjoined me. But I never did bury any such …. easie to get that done by some other Clergyman, who would bury all the non-Cons in the country …. with this their mitred Patron into the bargain, for half a Crown.’

Robertshaw went on to report with relish that not long afterwards, three of the Bishop’s own grandchildren were baptised by a man falsely claiming to be an ordained clergyman & ‘notwithstanding his above pretences to me‘, the Bishop had them re-baptised. He added, ‘I had the pleasure afterwards, to see this very Bishop in disgrace at Court, amongst his own Clan.

© Miles Green, October 2004