- Museum number
The seven bishops, with their portrait medallions arranged in the form of a pyramid flanked by lighted candles. 1688
- Production date
Height: 275 millimetres
Width: 208 millimetres
- Curator's comments
- (Text from Antony Griffiths, 'The Print In Stuart Britain', BM 1998, cat.207)
In 1687 James issued a Declaration of Indulgence that suspended the Test Acts and penal laws against Catholics and Dissenters. In May 1688 James demanded the Declaration be read from the pulpit in all Anglican churches. The Archbishop of Canterbury and six bishops protested, claiming that the King's power to suspend legislation had been ruled unconstitutional by Parliament in 1673. As a result most Anglican clergy refused to comply with James's demand. James's Council responded by prosecuting the bishops for seditious libel, and they were committed to the Tower on 8 June, two days before the birth of the new Prince of Wales.
Public opinion was outraged, but it was obviously dangerous to publish satires attacking the King. The protest therefore took the form of a flood of group portrait prints of the seven men. The British Museum possesses no less than eleven prints made at the time, seven British and four Dutch. Several were made by Huguenot émigrés, who were inevitably sensitive to the perils of Catholicism. This print by Gribelin was published by his fellow refugee, Paul van Somer. It adds the apocalyptic imagery of the seven stars that are angels and the seven candlesticks that are the seven churches (from Revelations I 20). Gribelin later the same year reworked the plate, and republished it himself. The subject remained alive for decades, and in the eighteenth century Gribelin's plate was reprinted by Thomas Jeffreys in the Strand and W.Herbert on London Bridge (1853-1-12-1530).
The Court of the King's Bench heard the case against the bishops on 29 June, and the jury returned a verdict of not guilty. Luttrell noted in his journal: 'And at night was mighty rejoyceing, in ringing of bells, discharging of gunns, lighting of candles, and bonefires in several places, tho forbid, and watchmen went about to take an account of such as made them: a joyfull deliverance to the Church of England.'
Gribelin also produced a second plate on the same theme (Pepys 2980.301). This shows the heads of the bishops on the seven branches of a candlestick, emerging from the arms of England, and watched over by the eye of God. At the top is a portrait of William of Orange, and one can only assume that it was made later in 1689.
The success of the many portraits of the seven bishops inspired other group portraits, of which Samuel Pepys collected six variations (2980.302 to 307). Among them are the seven counsel for the seven bishops; the six Portsmouth captains who declared for the Prince of Orange in 1688; the eight slain lay-witnesses who were identified as victims of James; the five bishops martyred under Queen Mary; and the first seven bishops and Lord Justices created by William of Orange.
- Not on display
- Associated events
- Associated Event: Trial of the Seven Bishops 1688
- Acquisition date
- Prints and Drawings
- Registration number