John Bird Sumner

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The Most Reverend and Right Honourable
John Bird Sumner[1]
Archbishop of Canterbury
Church Church of England
Diocese Canterbury
In office 1848–1862
Predecessor William Howley
Successor Charles Longley
Other posts Bishop of Chester (1828–1848)
Consecration 1828
Personal details
Born (1780-02-25)25 February 1780
Kenilworth, Warwickshire, Great Britain
Died 6 September 1862(1862-09-06) (aged 82)
Addington, Surrey, United Kingdom
Buried St Mary's Church, Addington

John Bird Sumner (25 February 1780 – 6 September 1862)[2] was a bishop in the Church of England and Archbishop of Canterbury.


John Bird Sumner was born in Kenilworth, Warwickshire on 25 February 1780, the eldest son of Revd. Robert Sumner, Vicar of Kenilworth, and his wife Hannah Bird, a first cousin of William Wilberforce.[3] Sumner was educated at Eton College and King's College, Cambridge.[4]

His brother Charles Richard Sumner was bishop of Winchester.

In 1802, Sumner became an assistant master at his alma mater, Eton College, where he was nicknamed "Crumpety Sumner" by the boys.[5] He was ordained in 1803. He was elected a Fellow of Eton in 1817 and in 1818 the school presented him to the living of Mapledurham, Oxfordshire. In 1819 he was chosen as a prebendary of the Durham diocese where he served until 1828, when he was consecrated to the episcopate as the Bishop of Chester. He was consecrated on 14 September 1828, by Edward Venables-Vernon-Harcourt, Archbishop of York, at York Minster.[6] During his episcopacy many churches and schools were built in the diocese. In 1848 he was elevated to Archbishop of Canterbury (under which title he signed documents as "J B Cantuar") with an annual income of £15,000.[7]

Shortly after taking his seat in the House of Lords he voted for catholic emancipation, which brought him into conflict with many of the clergy in his diocese.

Sumner's numerous writings were much esteemed, especially by the evangelical party to which he belonged. His best known writings are his Treatise on the Records of Creation and the Moral Attributes of the Creator (London, 1816) and The Evidence of Christianity derived from its Nature and Reception (London, 1821).

In the Gorham Case, Sumner came into conflict with Henry Phillpotts, Bishop of Exeter (1778–1869), who accused him of supporting heresy and refused to communicate with him. He supported the Divorce Bill in parliament but opposed the Deceased Wife's Sister Bill and the bill for removing Jewish disabilities. His obituary in the Norfolk News of 13 September 1862[8] commented that "he strongly opposed the admission of Jews into parliament ... and was among the foremost to denounce the Puseyite school of theology".

Sumner was president of the Canterbury Association which founded Christchurch, New Zealand.[9] In 1848 he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society.[10]

Sumner died on Saturday 6 September 1862 at Addington Palace, aged 82, and was buried on 12 September in the graveyard of St Mary's Church, Addington.[11] Two daughters and other relatives are interred at the north-east corner of the churchyard.

A portrait of Archbishop Sumner hangs in the hall of University College, Durham; another, in his convocation robes, by Eddis, is at Lambeth Palace; a replica of this is in the hall at King's College, Cambridge. A portrait by Margaret Carpenter was engraved by Samuel Cousins in 1839. A later portrait by the same artist was engraved by T. Richardson Jackson. Francis Holl executed an engraving of another portrait of him by George Richmond. A recumbent effigy by H. Weekes, R.A., funded by public subscription after Sumner's death, is in the nave of Canterbury Cathedral.[12]


Sumner married Marianne Robertson (1779-1829) on 31 March 1803 in the parochial chapel of St Mary Walcot, Bath, Somerset. She was the daughter of George Robertson of Edinburgh (1742-1791), a captain in the Royal Navy, and Ann Lewis (1748-1802). His wife's maternal grandparents were Francis Lewis (1713-1803), a New York signatory of the Declaration of Independence, and Elizabeth Anessley (1715-1779). Marianne died at the Manor House, Wandsworth, on 22 March 1829.

John Bird Sumner and Marianne Sumner had at least nine children:

  • Anne Colpoys nee Sumner (1805-1833)
  • Louisa Elizabeth Sumner (1806-
  • Eliza Maria Gibson nee Sumner (April 1808-1836), mother of the cricketer John Sumner Gibson
  • Caroline Sumner (January 1811 - February 1811)
  • Georgiana Dobie Wilson nee Sumner (August 1814-1881)
  • Caroline Sumner (December 1816-1841) - twin
  • Maria Thomas nee Sumner (December 1816-2 February 1861) - twin
  • Revd John Henry Robertson Sumner (June 1821-1910), father of the footballer John Robert Edwards Sumner
  • Robert George Moncrieff Sumner (November 1824-October 1885)


  1. ^ Church Times — Education: Academy awards
  2. ^ "John Bird Sumner". Retrieved 8 January 2015. [permanent dead link]
  3. ^ Edward J. Davies, "Some Connections of the Birds of Warwickshire", The Genealogist, 26(2012):58-76.
  4. ^ "Sumner, James Bird (SMNR798JB)". A Cambridge Alumni Database. University of Cambridge. 
  5. ^ Gronow, Rees Howell (1863). Recollections and Anecdotes: Being a Second Series of Reminiscences of the Camp, the Court, and the Clubs. Smith, Elder. p. 78. 
  6. ^ Stubbs, William & E. E. Holmes. Registrum Sacrum Anglicanum. An attempt to exhibit the course of episcopal succession in England from the records and chronicles of the church. 2nd edition (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1897) p. 151 (Accessed 27 June 2018)
  7. ^ Appletons' annual cyclopaedia and register of important events of the year: 1862. New York: D. Appleton & Company. 1863. p. 760. 
  8. ^ "British Newspaper Archive". Norfolk News. 13 September 1862. 
  9. ^ Blain, Michael (2007). The Canterbury Association (1848-1852): A Study of Its Members’ Connections (PDF). Christchurch: Project Canterbury. pp. 78–79. Retrieved 23 March 2013. 
  10. ^ "Library and Archive Catalogue". Royal Society. Retrieved 2012-02-02. [permanent dead link]
  11. ^ "British Newspaper Archive". Norfolk News. 13 September 1862. 
  12. ^ Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. 


  • Scotland, Nigel (1995), "John Bird Sumner: Evangelical Archbishop", Gracewing Publishing[1]

External links

  • Material relating to John Bird Sumner at Lambeth Palace Library
Church of England titles
Preceded by
Charles James Blomfield
Bishop of Chester
Succeeded by
John Graham
Preceded by
William Howley
Archbishop of Canterbury
Succeeded by
Charles Longley
  1. ^ Scotland, Nigel (1995). John Bird Sumner: Evangelical Archbishop. Gracewing Publishing. ISBN 9780852442463. 
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