Randall Davidson

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The Right Reverend and Right Honourable
The Lord Davidson of Lambeth
Archbishop of Canterbury
Randall Thomas Davidson losslesscropstrict.jpg
Randall Davidson, by Leslie Ward, 1901
Installed 1903
Predecessor Frederick Temple
Successor Cosmo Lang
Personal details
Birth name Randall Thomas Davidson
Born 7 April 1848
Died 25 May 1930 (aged 82)
Spouse Edith Tait

Randall Thomas Davidson, 1st Baron Davidson of Lambeth, GCVO, PC (7 April 1848 – 25 May 1930[1]) was an Anglican bishop of Scottish origin who served as Archbishop of Canterbury from 1903 to 1928. Adrian Hastings said he was perhaps the most influential of the churchmen, because he was:

a man of remarkable balance of judgment, intellectual humility, sense of responsibility and capacity for work... His great sense of public moral responsibility gave him an influence and a position which were remarkable.[2]

Background and education

Davidson was the son of Henry Davidson, a grain merchant, of Edinburgh and Henrietta, daughter of John Campbell Swinton of Kimmerghame; his parents were Scottish Presbyterians. His education was mostly in small private schools that he later described as unsatisfactory and long lamented his lack of proficiency in Latin and Greek. Later, he studied at Harrow, where Brooke Foss Westcott was his final year housemaster, and at Trinity College, Oxford. He graduated from Oxford in 1871 with a Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) and received a Master of Arts (M.A.) in 1875.[3]. In his final year of schooling,[when?] he was involved in a shooting accident that threatened the loss of his leg. According to his own account, it was only much later in his life, after the discovery and use of X-ray technology, that it was found that a considerable number of shotgun pellets still remained in his body. The accident left him with a hernia and he was a lifelong truss wearer, this caused him continuous difficulty as the hernia regularly dropped, especially when he was preaching.[3]


He was ordained as a deacon in 1874, and was curate at Dartford, Kent, between 1874 and 1877. Davidson served as chaplain to Archibald Campbell Tait when Tait was Archbishop of Canterbury. He later married Tait's daughter. After Tait's death in 1882, Davidson remained at Lambeth Palace as chaplain to the succeeding Archbishop of Canterbury, Edward White Benson. A favourite of Queen Victoria, Davidson was appointed Dean of Windsor in 1883, when 35 years of age. The Queen relied on him for advice regarding church appointments. He was nominated, elected, and confirmed as Bishop of Rochester before his episcopal ordination by Archbishop Benson, on St Mark's day (25 April) 1891 at Westminster Abbey.[4] He later served as Bishop of Winchester between 1895[5] and 1903. Randall was also Clerk of the Closet from 1891 to 1903. As such, he played a major part in the funeral ceremonies for Queen Victoria in February 1901, taking care, along with James Reid, of the wake at Osborne House, Isle of Wight; and in the Coronation of King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra in August 1902. After taking part in the coronation, he was invested as a Knight Commander of the Royal Victorian Order (KCVO) two days after the ceremony, on 11 August 1902.[6][7]

Archbishop of Canterbury

Davidson caricatured by Spy for Vanity Fair, 1901

Davidson was appointed Archbishop of Canterbury in 1903, succeeding Frederick Temple and remained in office until his resignation in 1928. He was the longest holder of the office since the English Reformation, being Archbishop for 25 years. He was also the first Archbishop of Canterbury to retire, all his predecessors having died in office. Roger Lloyd, Church of England historian, thought that Davidson was one of the two or three greatest Archbishops of Canterbury.

Davidson reacted to the papal bull Apostolicae curae by stressing "the strength and depth of the Protestantism of England" and regarded other differences with Rome as much more important than its views on Anglican orders.[8] This view had been held at the time, judging from the reaction of Cardinal Herbert Vaughan, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Westminster.[9]

In 1914 Davidson donated to a fund to help 'Germans, Austrians and Hungarians in distress' as they were classed as enemy aliens in Britain following the outbreak of World War One.[10] On 25 October 1919 Davidson agreed to receive a delegation of the South African National Native Congress (later the African National Congress or ANC) led by Solomon Plaatje who came to England to petition the imperial government against the Natives Land Act, 1913 in South Africa. The meeting at Lambeth Palace was made possible by the intervention of The Rev John Harris, organising secretary of the Anti-Slavery and Aborigines Protection Society. Behind the scenes Harris was advised by Davidson that he "should wish it, however, to be perfectly clear that the interview has no official character, that it must be regarded as absolutely private, and that no account of it must appear in print.' This, Davidson clearly emphasised was to 'avoid any misunderstanding his position in such matters'. Davidson warned Harris in no uncertain words that he must not be expected to give an answer of any formal kind whatsoever. For the SANNC, the interview with Davidson was a great disappointment. Not only was Davidson pressed for time, but not in the least willing to speak out against the hardship brought about by the Natives Land Act.[11]

Davidson presided over two Lambeth Conferences and was present at five of the first six, Bell's biography suggests that at least part of the reason for his resignation was his natural reluctance to face the work and worry of the seventh conference, eventually held in 1930. Davidson resigned after the Prayer Book revision failed to pass the House of Commons in 1928. As there was no procedure for resignation a commission of three bishops was hastily appointed to receive his letter of resignation and convey it to the King.


Davidson was appointed a Knight Commander of the Royal Victorian Order (KCVO) on 11 August 1902,[7] a Privy Counsellor in 1903 and a Knight Grand Cross of the Royal Victorian Order (GCVO) in 1904.[12] Davidson was also awarded the Royal Victorian Chain for his service as Archbishop of Canterbury.

Personal life

Davidson married Edith, daughter of Archibald Campbell Tait, Archbishop of Canterbury, in 1878. They had no children. His nephew and godson was the poet Randall Swingler. He died in May 1930, aged 82, when his barony as Lord Davidson of Lambeth became extinct. His wife died in June 1936.[3] Both are buried in the cloister garden at Canterbury Cathedral.


  1. ^ "Davidson, Randall Thomas, Baron Davidson of Lambeth". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/odnb/9780192683120.013.32733. (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  2. ^ Adrian Hastings, A History of English Christianity: 1920-1985 (1986) pp 60-61.
  3. ^ a b c Lundy, Darryl. "Most Rev. & Rt Hon. Randall Thomas Davidson, 1st Baron Davidson of Lambeth". thepeerage.com. [unreliable source]
  4. ^ "Consecration of bishops (Archived; subscription only)". Church Times (#1475). 1 May 1891. p. 427. ISSN 0009-658X. Retrieved 26 December 2016. (Subscription required (help)).
  5. ^ "The Life of Father Dolling" Osborne, C.E p 192: London, Edward Arnold, 1903
  6. ^ "Court Circular". The Times (36844). London. 12 August 1902. p. 8.
  7. ^ a b "No. 27467". The London Gazette. 22 August 1902. p. 5461.
  8. ^ Bell, G.K.A. (1935). Randall Davidson. 1. Oxford University Press. p. 232.
  9. ^ Lloyd, Roger. The Church of England 1900–1965. London: SCM.
  10. ^ van Emden, Richard (2013). Meeting the Enemy: The Human Face of the Great War. A&C Black. ISBN 978-1-4088-3981-2.
  11. ^ Van Diemel, Raymond (2001). In search of 'freedom, fair play and justice': Josiah Tshangana Gumede, 1867-1947 : a biography. R. van Diemel. ISBN 978-0-620-28054-9.
  12. ^ "No. 27645". The London Gazette. 12 February 1904. p. 940.

Further reading

  • Bell, G.K.A. Randall Davidson Archbishop Of Canterbury (2 vol 1935) vol 1 online, to 1916; vol 2 online, from 1917
  • Dark, Sidney. Archbishop Davidson and the English church (1929) online
  • Mews, Stuart. "Davidson, Randall Thomas, Baron Davidson of Lambethun (1848–1930)" Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2011); online

External links

Church of England titles
Preceded by
George Connor
Dean of Windsor
Succeeded by
Philip Eliot
Preceded by
Anthony Thorold
Bishop of Rochester
Succeeded by
Edward Talbot
Bishop of Winchester
Succeeded by
Herbert Ryle
Preceded by
Frederick Temple
Archbishop of Canterbury
Succeeded by
Cosmo Gordon Lang
Peerage of the United Kingdom
New creation Baron Davidson of Lambeth
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