Robert Wilberforce

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Robert Isaac Wilberforce (19 December 1802 – 3 February 1857) was an English clergyman and writer.

Early life and education[edit]

He was second son of abolitionist William Wilberforce, and active in the Oxford Movement. He was educated at Oriel College, Oxford, taking a double first in 1823.[1]


In 1826, he was chosen fellow of Oriel and was ordained, among his friends and colleagues being Newman, Pusey and Keble. For a few years he was one of the tutors at Oriel. The provost Edward Hawkins disliked his religious views, and in 1831 Wilberforce resigned and left Oxford. In 1832 he obtained the living of East Farleigh, Kent, which in 1840 he exchanged for that of Burton Agnes, near Hull. [1]

In 1841, he was appointed archdeacon of the East Riding of Yorkshire. About this time Wilberforce became close with Henry Manning, and they exchanged many letters on theological and ecclesiastical questions. They were deeply involved in re-examining the relationship between the Church of England and Roman Catholicism.[1] On 27 March 1848, Robert Wilberforce and his brother Samuel joined the Canterbury Association.[2]

In 1851, Manning joined the Roman Catholic Church, and three years later Wilberforce took the same step. His conversion came as a reaction to the so-called Gorham Judgement.[3] He was preparing for his (Roman Catholic) ordination when he died at Albano on 3 February 1857. He is buried in Rome at the Basilica of Santa Maria sopra Minerva, near the Pantheon. His tomb is situated just outside the right transept of the church.


Wilberforce was pre-deceased by his first wife Agnes Everilda Frances Wrangham (1800–1834) and second wife Jane Legard (d. 1854). [1]

He was survived by two sons, William Francis Wilberforce (1833–1905), Vicar of Brodsworth, and Edward Wilberforce (1834–1914), who became one of the masters of the Supreme Court of Judicature. Edward's son Lionel Robert Wilberforce (1861–1944) was in 1900 appointed professor of physics in the University of Liverpool, and his other children were:

R. I. Wilberforce assisted his brother, Samuel Wilberforce to write the Life and to edit the Correspondence of his father.[1]


  • Church Courts and Church Discipline (1843);
  • Doctrine of the Holy Eucharist (1853);
  • Doctrine of the Incarnation in Relation to Mankind and the Church (1848 and later editions);
  • The Five Empires, a Sketch of Ancient History (1840);
  • The Doctrine of Holy Baptism (1849);
  • A Sketch of the History of Erastianism (1851); and
  • An Enquiry into the Principles of Church Authority (1854)

His first published work was a romance, Rutilius and Lucius (1842).


  1. ^ a b c d e Chisholm 1911.
  2. ^ Bain, Rev. Michael (2007). The Canterbury Association (1848-1852): A Study of Its Members’ Connections (PDF). Christchurch: Project Canterbury. pp. 89–91. Retrieved 22 September 2012.
  3. ^ Conrad, Burkhard (2016). "The politics of a conversion - The case of Robert Isaac Wilberforce". International Journal for the Study of the Christian Church. 16 (3): 1–15. doi:10.1080/1474225X.2016.1221591.