Bishop Thomas Burgess Papers

Scope and Content

The archive contains a volume of Thomas Burgess' manuscript notes and working copies of his tracts relating to the controversy concerning Milton and the authorship of De Doctrina Christiana, edited by Charles Sumner, (Oxford, 1825), along with a letter written by Burgess from Oxford in 1792 to Daniel Wyttenbach, Amsterdam concerning the publication of new editions of Classical works by himself and others, many of which are now held at the Founders' Library as part of the Burgess bequest.

Administrative / Biographical History

Thomas Burgess was born at Odiham, Hampshire, on November 18th 1756. In 1763, he was sent to the local Grammar School, and in 1768 began attending Winchester School. He went on to study at Corpus Christi College, Oxford. Whilst a student, he re-edited Burton's 'Pentalogia'. In 1778 he received his BA, and was awarded his MA in 1782. Burgess then became a tutor at his college, and was made a fellow in 1783.

Burgess was ordained a deacon and priest in 1784. The following year he was appointed Examining Chaplain to Bishop Barrington of Salisbury. He remained at Oxford during this period, and published works on various points of scholarship. His attention was gradually drawn more and more to theology, and he went on to learn Hebrew. He also assisted with the promotion of Sunday Schools in the diocese of Salisbury, and wrote a pamphlet advocating the abolition of slavery in 1788.

In 1791, Bishop Barrington was transferred to Durham. Burgess left Oxford and followed him northwards. He was appointed prebendary of Durham Cathedral, and in 1795 was given the living of Wiston, County Durham.

In 1803, Burgess was made Bishop of St. David's, and he immediately recognised the need for improved educational standards in his impoverished diocese. He established four grammar schools, and insisted pupils studied there for seven years prior to ordination. He also founded the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge and Church Union in the Diocese of St. David's. As a result, he started collecting subscriptions for the establishment of a college to educate the diocesan clergy. By 1820, he had received over eleven thousand pounds. Grants from the king and Oxford and Cambridge Universities were added to this, and the foundation stone of the college was laid in 1822. Five years later, St. David's College, Lampeter received its first students. Although Burgess had by this time left the diocese for a less strenuous position as Bishop of Salisbury, he remained dedicated to the institution for the remainder of his life.

In 1804, Burgess helped found the Bible Society. In 1823, he drew up a plan for the establishment of the Royal Society of Literature, and later became its first president. Burgess published a great number of tracts during his lifetime on a variety of subjects, including a series on Unitarianism (1804-20). He also dedicated himself to disproving the theory that Milton was the author of the treatise 'De Doctrina Christiana'. In total, he published over 100 works. By the time he was transferred to the Bishopric of Salisbury, his health had begun to fail him. He died on February 19th, 1837.

Access Information

The papers may be consulted through application to Peter Hopkins, Curator, Roderic Bowen Library and Archives, Trinity Saint David, Ceredigion, SA48 7ED. Tel 01570 424716, email:

Acquisition Information

The papers relating to the Milton controversy were donated to the library of St. David's College, Lampeter by W Isaac Williams. The letter was purchased for the university from Richard M Ford Ltd. Antiquarian Booksellers, London on December 13th 2001.


Description compiled by Rhian Phillips, Archives Hub project archivist, with reference to the Dictionary of National Biography, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1885-1900).

Other Finding Aids

Basic finding aid available at the Founders' Library, University of Wales, Lampeter.

Related Material

The Founders Library also holds Thomas Burgess' library, which includes many books heavily annotated by Burgess, particularly on the subjects of Roman Catholicism and Unitarianism.

Further papers of Thomas Burgess are available at the Bodleian Library, Oxford; the British Library, and the National Library of Wales.

Papers of Charles Sumner are held at the Bodleian Library, Oxford.

Papers and manuscripts of John Milton are to be found at the British Library; Columbia University Library, USA; Trinity College Library, Cambridge, and the Pierpoint Morgan Library, New York, USA.