John Dolben

For the English barrister and politician, see John Dolben (politician).
The Most Reverend
John Dolben
Archbishop of York
Archdiocese York
Installed 1683
Term ended 1686
Predecessor Richard Sterne
Successor Thomas Lamplugh
Other posts Dean of Westminster, Bishop of Rochester
Consecration 1683
Personal details
Born 1625
Died 1686

John Dolben (1625–1686) was an English priest and Church of England bishop and archbishop.


Early life

Memorial dating from 1688 to Archbishop John Dolben in York Minster by Grinling Gibbons

He was the son of William Dolben (died 1631), prebendary of Lincoln and bishop-designate of Gloucester, and Elizabeth Williams, niece of John Williams, Archbishop of York.[1] The leading judge Sir William Dolben was his brother.

He was educated at Westminster School under Richard Busby and at Christ Church, Oxford. He fought on the Royalist side at the Battle of Marston Moor, in 1644, and in the defence of York, and was wounded twice.[2] By 1646 like most Royalists he had abandoned all hope of victory and resumed his studies.[3]

Subsequently he took orders and maintained in private the proscribed Anglican service; during these years he lived at St Aldates, Oxford, home of his wife's father Ralph Sheldon, brother of the future Archbishop Sheldon.[4]


At the Restoration, he became canon of Christ Church (1660) and prebendary of St Paul's, London (1661), no doubt partly due to the influence of Sheldon, now Bishop of London. As Dean of Westminster (1662–1683), he opposed an attempt to bring the abbey under diocesan rule. His charm, eloquence, generoisty and frankness gained him enormous popularity. In 1666 he was made Bishop of Rochester. The fall of his friend Edward Hyde, 1st Earl of Clarendon the next year is said to have caused him to be in temporary disgrace, but he was quickly restored to favour. In 1675 he was appointed Lord High Almoner and in 1683 he was made Archbishop of York; he distinguished himself by reforming the discipline of the cathedrals in these dioceses.[5] He was the first president of the Corporation of the Sons of the Clergy when it received its Royal Charter in 1678.

Death and family

At Easter 1686, returning to York from London, he came into contact with a smallpox victim, caught the infection and died a few days later.[6] His last months are said to have been greatly troubled by King James IIs attempts to re-establish the Roman Catholic faith.[7]

He married Catherine Sheldon, a niece of Gilbert Sheldon, Archbishop of Canterbury. He had two sons, Gilbert, judge of the Court of Common Pleas (Ireland) and first of the Dolben baronets,[8] and John Dolben, a well-known politician.

All descriptions of him agree that he was a man of commanding appearance, tall, handsome and dark, but inclined to fat.

The Archbishop Dolben cup presented at the York International 9s rugby league festival is named after John Dolben.

In literature

John Dryden, in Absalom and Achitophel, gave a portrait of Dolben:

"Him of the Western dome, whose weighty sense

Flows in fit words and heavenly eloquence".


  1.  Venables, Edmund (1888). "Dolben, John (1625-1686)". In Stephen, Leslie. Dictionary of National Biography. 15. London: Smith, Elder & Co. p. 189.
  2. Venables p.189
  3. Venables p.190
  4. Venables p.190
  5.  Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Dolben, John". Encyclopædia Britannica. 8 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 386.
  6. Venables p.192
  7. Venables p.192
  8. Ball, F. Elrington The Judges in Ireland 1221-1921 London John Murray Vol.2 p.17
Church of England titles
Preceded by
John Earle
Dean of Westminster
Succeeded by
Thomas Sprat
Preceded by
John Warner
Bishop of Rochester
Succeeded by
Francis Turner
Preceded by
Richard Sterne
Archbishop of York
Title next held by
Thomas Lamplugh
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