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Henry Sacheverell

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Henry Sacheverell (1674 - June 15, 1724) was an English churchman and politician.

The son of Joshua Sacheverell, rector of St Peter's, Marlborough, he was adopted by his godfather, Edward Hearst, and his wife, and was sent to Magdalen College, Oxford, in 1689. He was a student there until 1701 and a fellow from 1701 to 1713. Joseph Addison, another native of Wiltshire, had entered the same college two years earlier; he later dedicated to Sacheverell his work on English poets (1694). Sacheverell took his degree of B.A. in 1693, and became M.A. in 1695 and D.D. in 1708. His first preferment was the small vicarage of Cannock in Staffordshire; but he came to fame when preacher at St Saviour's, Southwark. His famous sermons on the church in danger from the neglect of the Whig ministry to keep guard over its interests were preached, the one at Derby on August 15, the other at St Paul's Cathedral on November 5 1709.

They were immediately reprinted, the latter being dedicated to the lord mayor and the former to the author's kinsman, George Sacheverell, high sheriff of Derby for the year; and, as the passions of the whole British population were at this period keenly exercised between the rival factions of Whig and Tory; Sacheverell's arguments on behalf of the church which supplied the Tories with most of their support made him their idol. The Whig ministry, then slowly but surely losing the support of the country, were divided in opinion as to the propriety of prosecuting this zealous parson. Somers was against such a measure; but Sidney Godolphin, who was believed to be personally alluded to in one of these harangues under the nickname of "Volpone," urged the necessity of a prosecution, and gained the day.

The trial lasted from February 27 to March 23, 1710, and the verdict was that Sacheverell should be suspended for three years and that the two sermons should be burnt at the Royal Exchange. This was the decree of the state, and it had the effect of making him a martyr in the eyes of the populace and of bringing about the downfall of the ministry. Immediately on the expiration of his sentence (April 13, 1713) he was instituted to the valuable rectory of St Andrew's, Holborn, by the new Tory ministry, who despised the author of the sermons, although they dreaded his influence over the mob. He died at the Grove, Highgate, on the 5th of June 1724.

See Hearne's Diaries, Bloxam's Register of Magdalen and Hill Burton's Queen Anne, vol. ii. There is an excellent bibliography by Falconer Madan (1887).

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