Selina, Countess of Huntingdon
240 Pages

Selina, Countess of Huntingdon


240 Pages


The Countess of Huntingdon's Connexion is one of the most interesting phenomena in the history of Non-Conformity and one of the most neglected strands in the history of the Evangelical Revival. The book is based on author's comprehensive and original research of hitherto unknown sources.



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Published 27 January 2014
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Selina, Countess of Huntingdon
Selina, Countess of Huntingdon
Alan Harding
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, Wipf and Stock Publishers stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, 199 W 8th Ave, Suite 3 in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, Eugene, OR 97401 photocopying or otherwise, without the prior permission of the publisher, Epworth. Selina, Countess of Huntingdon By Harding, Alan Copyright © Alan Harding 2007 Copyright©2007 by Harding, Alan ISBN 13: 978-1-62032-096-9 The Author has assPeurtbelidcahtiisornigdhatteun3/d1e/r2t0h1e2Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 19P8r8e,vtioobuesliydepnutibliesdheadstbhyeEApuwthoortrh,of2t0h0i7sWork
British Library Cataloguing in Publication data
A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library
978 0 7162 0611 8
First published in 2007 by Epworth 4 John Wesley Road Werrington Peterborough PE4 6ZP
Typeset by Regent Typesetting, London Printed and bound in Great Britain by William Clowes Ltd, Beccles, Suffolk
Preface Abbreviations Acknowledgements
 1 Religion in Eighteenth-Century England 2 The Evangelical Revival and the Origins of  Methodism 3 Lady Huntingdon’s Early Life and Marriage 4 Conversion 5 Widowhood and Its Aftermath 6 The 1750s: Lady Huntingdon’s Circle Expands 7 The 1760s: Opening Chapels and Recruiting Helpers 8 The 1760s: Relations with Others in the Revival 9 Trevecca College10 How the Connexion Spread and Operated11 What It Was Like to Belong to a Countess of  Huntingdon Congregation12 Rows with Wesley13 America: Bethesda Orphan House and Academy14 Life at Trevecca College
ix xi xiii
16 25 31 40 50 65 81 87 100
115 131 147 164
15 Secession from the Church of England16 Lady Huntingdon’s Last Years
Bibliographical Note Index
171 187
206 211
In memory of my parents
Henry James Harding (1901–1966) Beatrice Dorothy Harding (1911–1972)
Very few men – and even fewer women – have the opportunity, or feel the need, to found a church of their own. Selina, Countess of Huntingdon, who is the subject of this book, is exceptional in doing just that. By the time she died, aged 83, in 1791, she had established a separate ‘connexion’ bearing her name, and consisting of more than sixty congregations. Her church had its own ordained ministry, its own ministerial training college, and its own statement of theological belief. In her lifetime, she had made a distinctive contribution to the eighteenth-century revival of evangelical religion in Britain, and her churches represented a small but important element in British nonconformity at the start of the nineteenth century. Even at the beginning of the twenty-first century there are still congregations in England bearing the name of the Countess of Huntingdon’s Connexion. None of this could have been predicted of the Earl’s daughter who was born Selina Shirley in 1707. Nor indeed was it apparent, for a considerable period of her life, how significant she would later be. As we shall see, Selina was well into middle age before she embarked properly on the work for which she is remembered. The purpose of this book is to ask how it was that this woman became drawn into one of the major religious movements of her day, and how she moved from a supporting role to one of leadership on her own account. We shall examine the featuresof the church that she founded. (It quickly became known as her Connexion,andthatisthetermthatweshallusethroughoutthis
s e l i na , ฀ c o u n t e s s ฀ o f ฀ h u n t i n g d o n book.) We shall look at some of the main events that happened to Lady Huntingdon and her Connexion, including her bitter quar-rel with John Wesley, her experience as the absentee proprietor of an American slave plantation, and her reluctant decision to leave the Church of England. We shall end by asking about her legacy, and how worthwhile all this activity had been. Why, though, should we bother to study her at all? Obviously the curiosity factor is a strong one. She led a remarkable life, and there was no-one quite like her, in the eighteenth century or since. We are used to aristocrats forming their own regiments or cricket teams, but an aristocrat who started her ownchurchis in a class apart. More than that, her career sheds an important light on the social and religious life of the era in which she lived. She continually invites us to ask what it was about the eighteenth century that made it necessary or possible for someone like Lady Huntingdon to do what she did. She is also important in under-standing the Evangelical Revival and the origins of Methodism. It is easy to think of the Evangelical Revival just in terms of John Wesley and of the evangelical party in the Church of England. Lady Huntingdon reminds us that there were other significant groups as well. In fact, her Connexion was (outside the Church) the largest of several English evangelical groups that differed from Wesley on theological grounds. She is key to appreciating the diversity of the Revival. Added to that, she knew virtually everyone who was anyone in the Evangelical Revival, so studying her takes us to the heart of the movement. Before we begin to follow Lady Huntingdon’s career, we shall consider what religious life was like in the England into which she was born. We shall also look at the nature of the Evangelical Revival, so that we can understand her place within it.