Letters from the Countess of Huntingdon

Scope and Content

Fourteen letters from Selina Hastings to Rev. Thomas Wills, Mrs Wills and others, 1774-1784, bound into one volume with engravings and a manuscript contents page, probably by Raffles.

Administrative / Biographical History

Selina Hastings née Shirley, Countess of Huntingdon (1707-1791), was the founder of the Countess of Huntingdon's Connexion. She married Theophilus Hastings, 9th Earl of Huntingdon (1696-1746), in 1728. Spiritually inclined from her childhood, Selina converted to Methodism in 1739, and in 1741 initiated a relationship with John and Charles Wesley. By 1744 she had shifted towards Calvinistic predestination, having attended the Tabernacle Chapel in London and corresponded with George Whitefield whom she appointed her personal chaplain.

After the death of her husband in 1746, her commitment to the work of the revival deepened. In 1761 she opened her first chapel, in the grounds of her Brighton residence. This was followed by chapels at Bath in 1765, at Tunbridge Wells in 1769, and at Clerkenwell (Spa Fields) in the late 1770s. These chapels were built close to her residences, and she maintained them to be personal chapels, despite seating large congregations. However, in 1780, the consistorial court forbade the chaplain at Spa Fields to preach there. Lady Huntingdon seceded from the Church of England, and Spa Fields formally became a dissenting chapel on 12 January 1782. These chapels eventually formed the Countess of Huntingdon's Connexion. After her death on 17 June 1791, the Connexion was maintained by a trust appointed in her will.

Source: Boyd Stanley Schlenther, 'Hastings, Selina, countess of Huntingdon (1707-1791)', Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004. By permission of Oxford University Press - http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/ref:odnb/12582.

Thomas Wills (1740-1802) was a parish curate in Cornwall before meeting the Countess of Huntingdon in 1772. Two years later he married her neice Selina Margaretta Wheler (d 1814) and began to preach for the Countess. He supervised the work of her Connexion in Cornwall and in 1778 was appointed one of her chaplains in 1778. After his censure by the ecclesiastical court, he left the Church of England and served as the minister at the Countess's chapel in Spa Fields, London. Wills fell out with the Countess and was dismissed in 1788.

Source: Joel R. Beeke, 'Wills, Thomas (1740-1802)', Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004. By permission of Oxford University Press - http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/ref:odnb/29607.

Related Material

Correspondence dated 1782-1786 between Thomas Wills (1740-1802) and Selina Hastings is held by Westminster and Cheshunt College Library.

The Methodist Archives and Research Centre at the JRUL holds correspondence of Selina Hastings within the Wesley Family Papers collection.