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The Life of Richard Waldo Sibthorp

Evangelical, Catholic and Ritual Revivalism in the Nineteenth-Century Church

Author Text to Follow

Richard Sibthorp, youngest son of a celebrated Lincolnshire family, became through his forceful preaching and acknowledged piety, one of the leading Anglican Evangelicals of the 1820s. During the next decade, close study of the Old Testament turned him into a High Churchman who transformed his chapel on the Isle of Wight into a pioneering centre of ritualism. In 1841, at great personal cost, he converted to Rome. More astonishing was his announcement, in October 1843, that he was returning to the Establishment. Eighteen months as a priest had persuaded him the Protestant Reformers were right: the Papacy was indeed the prophesied Antichrist, the ‘great harlot’.

That the elderly Sibthorp eventually returned to Rome and ended his days as a respected priest of Nottingham Cathedral appears only to confirm his reputation as an eccentric whose career may amuse but can offer little instruction. This new biography, however, by carefully analysing Sibthorp’s response to the powerful theological movements that swirled around him, challenges this received opinion. He emerges as a man of impressive spirituality, unwilling to compromise in his search for truth, even at the price of misunderstanding and ridicule.

Hardback ISBN: 978-1-84519-062-0
Hardback Price: £55.00 / $67.50
Release Date: February 2005
Page Extent / Format: 272 pp. / 229 x 152 mm
Illustrated: No


List of Illustrations

An Eighteenth-Century Family
A Nineteenth-Century Family
The Youngest Son
A Calamitous Inroad
Atoning for Criminal Misconduct
Holiness Regained
The Trials of a Gospel Preacher

The Church Missionary Society
Returning to Lincolnshire
Seeking Direction
The Progress of the Gospel
Leaving Lincolnshire

The British and Foreign Bible Society
The Catholic Controversy
The Religious Tract Society
Oxford Again
The Unconditional Freeness of the Gospel

Slipping the Moorings
The Rector of Brighstone
The Rapid Transition of an Impulsive Mind
'An Abyss of Error, Idolatry and Superstition'
An Ideal Church
Fishing with a Rod

Why Are You Become a Catholic?
Who is a Catholic?
The Religious World Responds
Roman Catholic Rejoicing
'A Reed Shaken by the Wind'
A Parting of the Ways
The Rankling of a Thorn
'Thus has Become Extinguished the Brightest Hope'

Antichrist or Bride?
'A Rope of Sand'
A Broken Vessel
Apprentice to a Cobbler
An Imaginary Via Media
The Lincoln Ministry
The Path to Sainthood
'Let us Gather up the Fragments of Time on Earth that Remain'
Sibthorp Family Tree


Michael Trott has spent several years researching the life of Richard Waldo Sibthorp. Richard Sibthorp ‘became, through his forceful preaching and acknowledged piety, one of the leading Evangelicals of the 1820s’. During the next decade his Old Testament studies turned him into a High Churchman who transformed his chapel on the Isle of Wight into a pioneering centre of ritualism. In 1841, at great personal cost, he converted to Rome. More astonishing was his announcement, in October 1843, that he was ‘returning to the Establishment’. Sheridan Gilley praises Trott for ‘offering a sure guide to Sibthorp’s part in the Oxford Movement and the Evangelical, Catholic and ritual revivals, [and for throwing] light on some of the wider issues in the pre-history of modern ecumenism and the study of the Victorian Church’.
Theology Digest

Michael Trott describes well Sibthorp’s internal tensions, helping the reader to understand the tragedy behind the caricature that Sibthorp’s life was for his contemporaries. Trott shows that there is a certain grandeur behind the caricature: ridicule might have been piled upon him, but he did not allow fear of it – or fear of losing influence and position – to divert him from what he considered right. In another respect, the circuitous route of Sibthorp’s denominational wanderings offers the reader an interesting perspective into large areas of the religious landscape of nineteenth-century England. Trott has done a good job here, and he should be praised for it.
 Recusant History

This work will be of considerable interest to the large body of readers of Victorian biography and of Anglican, Evangelical and Roman Catholic theology and history; to enthusiasts for Lincolnshire – the Sibthorps were a distinguished local family; and to anyone fascinated by the apparently curious and eccentric character of a man who touched the lives of the Cardinals Newman, Manning and Wiseman, Samuel Wilberforce, Bishop Summer of Winchester, William George Ward, and other luminaries of nineteenth-century religion. Richard Waldo Sibthorp is already celebrated for his changes of religious conviction, especially between the Church of England and the Catholic Church, his life ending in a Catholic requiem and an Anglican burial, but this is the first major study of him since his Victorian biography, and draws upon a mass of local archival material, contemporary printed matter and recent scholarship to bring him to life. It is informed by a warm but critical regard for its subject, and with a psychological acuteness lacking in much academic biography, it makes personal and theological sense of the continuities underlying his apparently wayward and strange religious journey, in terms of his anti-Calvinism, fascination with apocalyptic and quest for holiness, and his susceptibility to a range of religious traditions offering spiritual life and growth. It brings out well the paradoxically uncontroversial character of one who was so often at the heart of controversy himself.… Dr Trott is to be congratulated for achieving this with simplicity and economy and an exemplary lucidity, offering a sure guide to Sibthorp's part in the Oxford Movement and the Evangelical, Catholic and ritual revivals. The author has, in short, proved himself as a biographer, a local historian, a family historian, a church historian and an historian of ideas, carrying his narrative beyond the undoubted fascination of its immediate subject to throw a light on some of the wider issues in the pre-history of modem ecumenism and the study of the Victorian Church.
Sheridan Gilley, author of Newman and his Age and A History of Religion in Britain

Sibthorp met the great religious characters of his day and exemplified many of the oddities of the period. These appear in the new, extremely well researched book by Michael Trott, better than anything written about him before, and a treat for connoisseurs of eccentricity.
Daily Telegraph

This is a thrilling, memorable account elegantly circumnavigating the complex religious controversies of the early Victorian period.… It is a salutary tale: there is no rest for the active conscience. The story of Sibthorp, tragically condemned to be ever wandering against the tide, is a valuable antidote to the certainties of professional ecclesiastics.
The Tablet

This is an excellent biography of a minor figure in nineteenth-century church history... A theme of Trott’s book is Sibthorp’s life-long search for ‘holiness’. Baptized an Anglican a month after his birth just outside Lincoln in 1792, he began this quest in adolescence, inspired by the piety of his tutor, an emigre Roman Catholic priest. ... Sibthorp’s renunciation of Roman Catholicism after his sudden conversion ... created a brief sensation in the press, but after 1843 he was largely forgotten. Sadness touched the remainder of his life as he searched for holiness and truth in a world of human imperfection.
Victorian Studies

There needs no apology for noticing this biography in a journal of Lincolnshire history. The Sibthorps have been identified with Canwick, across the ham from uphill Lincoln, for well over two centuries. This particular Sibthorp spent a great part of his life as a priest of the Church of England (with a notable ministry at Tattershall in this diocese), and at its end (in Nottinghamshire) as a priest of the Roman Catholic Church. Dr Trott’s over-riding interest is in whatever contributed to that destination. He has been exceptionally well served by his publisher; the book is a pleasure to handle.
... It is an extraordinary story. Three moments are especially notable. In 1824 he was sufficiently valued in the evangelical Church Missionary Society for the post of Second Secretary to be created for him, but which he did not accept. In the years around 1840 his construction of an enriched pastoral, preaching, and aesthetic ministry at St James, Ryde – including the ‘scandalous’ innovation of a lectern eagle – was path-breaking. Between 1846 and 1864 Sibthorp conceived, financed, and shaped the St Anne’s Bede Houses in Lincoln and served as first warden of what is an ongoing diocesan institution.
Lincolnshire History & Archaeology

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