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.
The Perils of False Brethren
Sacheverell preached his famous sermons—that the church was in danger from the neglect of the Whig ministry to keep guard over its interests—the one at Derby on 15 August 1709 entitled The Communication of Sin, the other at St Paul's Cathedral on 5 November 1709, entitled The Perils of False Brethren, in Church, and State. Such 5 November sermons usually compared the discovery of the Gunpowder Plot of 5 November 1605 with William of Orange's landing at Torbay on 5 November 1688 as "a double deliverance" from Catholicism. Sacheverell compared the Gunpowder Plot not to 1688 but to the date of the execution of Charles I, 30 January 1649, as two days of the "rage and bloodthirstiness of both the popish and fanatick enemies of our Church and Government...These TWO DAYS indeed are but one united proof and visible testimonial of the same dangerous and rebellious principles these confederates in iniquity maintain". The threat to the church from Catholics was dealt with in three minutes; the rest of the one-and-a-half-hour sermon was an attack on Nonconformists and the "false brethren" who aided them in menacing church and state. Sacheverell maintained that the Anglican doctrine of non-resistance had not been violated in 1688 but that as James II had fled the country he had abdicated, leading the way to the succession of William and Mary and the continued validity of the biblical words, "touch not the Lord's anointed".
They were immediately reprinted, the latter being dedicated to the lord mayor and the former to the author's kinsman, George Sacheverell, who was High Sheriff of Derbyshire that 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. John 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.
Sacheverell's trial lasted from 27 February to 21 March 1710 and the verdict was that he 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 (along with heavy taxes on Londoners) bringing about the first Sacheverell riots that year in London and the rest of the country, which included attacks on Presbyterian and other Dissenter places of worship, with some being burned down. The rioting in turn led to the downfall of the government ministry later that year and the passing of the Riot Act in 1714.
Despite the suspension from preaching, Sacheverell was presented to a living in Shropshire on 26 June 1710 as Rector of Selattyn near Oswestry by a former Cambridge student of his, Robert Lloyd, local landowner and then an M.P. for Shropshire. He was cheered on the way from London to Selattyn as a public hero. He held his living until 1713.
Immediately on the expiration of his sentence on 13 April 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. Another set of "Sacheverell riots" broke out in 1715. Henry Sacheverell died at the Grove, Highgate, on 15 June 1724. The house was later occupied by the poet Coleridge and is now owned by Kate Moss.
Writing later in the eighteenth century, the Whig member of parliament Edmund Burke used the speeches of Whig leaders at the Sacheverell trial in his An Appeal from the New to the Old Whigs (1791) to demonstrate true Whiggism (as opposed to the beliefs of the Foxite 'New Whigs').
- W. A. Speck, 'Sacheverell, Henry (bap. 1674, d. 1724)', Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, online edn, Oxford University Press, Sept 2004, accessed 6 August 2010.
- The History and Gazetteer of the County of Derby Vol 1 (1831) Stephen Glover. Appendix p 12 Queen Anne. Google Books
- A History of the Parish of Selattyn. Transactions of the Shropshire Archaeological Society, Second Series, Volume III. 1896. pp. 68, 82.Article by the Hon Mrs Bulkeley-Owen.
- "Kate Moss moves into Coleridge's Xanadu". The Guardian 26 May 2011.
- F. P. Lock, Edmund Burke. Volume II, 1784–1797 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2006), p. 383.
- Geoffrey Holmes, The Trial of Doctor Sacheverell (London: Eyre Methuen, 1973).
- W. A. Speck, ‘Sacheverell, Henry (bap. 1674, d. 1724)', Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, online edn, Oxford University Press, Sept 2004, accessed 6 August 2010.
15 Howell State Trials (1816 edition) 1 (proceedings in Commons and Lords on his impeachment).
- John Rouse Bloxam, Register of Magdalen and Hill Burton, Queen Anne, vol. ii.
- Hearne, Thomas. Remarks and Collections of Thomas Hearne. Edited by C. E. Doble, D. W. Rannie, and H. E. Salter. Oxford: Printed for the Oxford Historical Society at the Clarendon Press, 1885–1921. 11 volumes.
- There is a bibliography covering the pamphlet battle on both sides by Francis Falconer Madan (Madan, Francis Falconer, 1886–1961) A Critical Bibliography of Dr. Henry Sacheverell. Edited by William Arthur Speck. University of Kansas Publications. Library Series 43. Lawrence KA: University of Kansas Libraries, 1978. Based on his father's (Francis Madan 1851–1935) A Bibliography of Dr. Henry Sacheverell, Oxford: Printed for the Author, 1884, 73 pp., which in turn was a reprinting of the father's series of articles in The Bibliographer, 1883–1884, with additions.) The Madan's collection, upon which much of their work is based, is now in the British Library.
- 'Book 1, Ch. 18: Queen Anne', A New History of London: Including Westminster and Southwark (1773), pp. 288–306. Date accessed: 16 November 2006.
- Geoffrey Holmes, 'The Sacheverell Riots: The Crowd and the Church in Early Eighteenth-Century London', Past and Present, No. 72 (Aug. 1976), pp. 55–85.
- Cowan, Brian, editor, The State Trial of Doctor Henry Sacheverell, Volume 6 of Parliamentary History: Texts & Studies. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 2012. A critical edition of original texts and documents relating to the trial of Dr. Sacheverell.