Gilbert Burnet: Bishop and Historian

The author of the History of My Own Time was both a keen churchman and a compulsive writer. Mary Delorme describes how Burnet's style, whether graphic, humorous or pompous, was usually as free and expansive as the historian himself.

Gilbert Burnet was born in 1643, when England and Scotland were vexed by religious and political conflict; and he became a churchman early in life. He was a compulsive writer, whose expressed hatred of sectarian persecution soon lost him the favour of his bishops; and, after receiving a commission to write the Memoirs of the Dukes of Hamilton, he became an historian. Of his two greatest works, the first, A History of the Reformation of the Church of England, has its tercentenary this year.

It was immediately successful, and is still a useful work, like his History of My Own Time. The latter was written during the years between his late twenties and his death in 1715, recounting events as they occurred; it was intended for posthumous publication. Clerical influence returned to him only in middle age, when, as Bishop of Salisbury, he was able to put his advanced pastoral theories into practice.

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