Gilbert Sheldon: Architect of Anglican Survival 1640-1675

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The place of Gilbert Sheldon in seventeenth century history and his influence upon the events of the period have long presented a tantalizing problem. A historian exploring the archives of the time cannot help but be impressed by the ubiquitous appearances of the archbishop. Yet the frequent references too often provide little detail, so that what emerges is a wraith-like picture of the man and a very uncertain account of his activities. As a result it is difficult to know what to think of Sheldon. He has been termed a Laudian, but Mathew Wren, Laud's loyal assistant and sharer of his imprisonment, was cempletely baffled by the initials G. Sh. which appeared in a letter sent to him in the early 1650's. Also labeled a staunch Tory and a firm believer in the institution of monarchy, Shelden showed no compunction whatever about lecturing the king on his duties or in boldly epposing the royal wishes when his lectures were ignored. He has been described as a man of iron character, yet he was invariably soft-spoken and gentle to those in his immediate presence. He is pictured as a ruthless persecutor, but he often offered assistance, material and otherwise, to those who had been his opponents. Supposedly he was avaricious, yet the record suggests that during the Interregnum he impoverished himself to assist needy friends and church acquain- tances, seme of whem he barely knew.