Thomas Sprat, Dean of Westminster 1683-1713, is buried in St Nicholas’s chapel in Westminster Abbey. His son Thomas lies with him. The Latin inscription on their gravestone can be translated as:
“Thomas Sprat, Bishop of Rochester, Dean of this Church, died 20 May 1713 in his 77th year. Thomas Sprat, Archdeacon of Rochester, Prebendary both of this Church and of Winchester, died 10 May 1720 in his 41st year.”
There was also a monument to them in this chapel but this was moved in 1726 to the south aisle of the nave (this was because room was needed in the chapel for the Duchess of Northumberland’s monument). This consists of mural tablets with books and two coats of arms. The sculptor was Francis Bird and it was given by Dr John Freind (who has a monument in the nave). The Latin inscription on the monument can be translated:
“Here lies Thomas Sprat, D.D., son of a clergyman, born in the county of Dorset, Fellow of Wadham College in Oxford. Whilst he was but a young poet he published several specimens of an extraordinary genius and learning; but soon leaving the Muses (however favourable to him), he resigned this glory to his Cowley, and chose rather to pursue the beauties of prose, in which study, being equally exercised and delighted, he made the earliest appearance amongst those who undertook to polish the English tongue. And transferred to his native language all the graces of the Greek and Roman eloquence, for which being deservedly esteemed by men of the first character. He was soon made known to George, Duke of Buckingham, and by him to that nice judge of politeness, King Charles, who bestowed on him a prebendary in the churches of Westminster and Windsor: not long after, he was made Dean of this Church, and lastly Bishop of Rochester both which provinces he governed with the highest reputation. He, both in his writings and common conversation, expressed that politeness which evidently show him conversant with great men, he carried it obligingly to all; and yet even preferred that distance which he seemed least to arrogate to himself. In dangerous as well as prosperous times, he stood firm in his integrity to the Church and Monarchy, and by that means kindled the envy of wicked men who, by invented crimes, brought him in danger of his head. But being happily delivered from these troubles, his life afterwards flowed on with an even temperament, neither burthensome to himself nor his friends. At length, falling at once by full ripeness of age, he died with the same calmness that he lived, 20 May 1713, in the 77th year of his age.”
On the second tablet below:
“Here also Thomas Sprat, M.A., son of this most happy prelate, ordered his ashes to be laid near those of his father. He was Archdeacon of Rochester, and prebendary of the churches of Rochester, Winchester and Westminster; who from his earliest youth learned to pursue all parts of learning and genteel education; and emulating the virtues of his excellent father, lived not, alas, to reach his years. He died 10 May 1720, aged 41 years. John Freind, M.D., who had for him the utmost reverence, that he might show it hath consecrated this monument jointly to their memories.”
The coats of arms of the See of Rochester and Sprat appear at the top and at the base is a shield with the Sprat arms alone “argent a chevron sable between three sprats”.
Life and career
Thomas was born at Beaminster in Dorset and baptised on 20 September 1635, a son of the Revd.Thomas Sprat (d.1655). He was educated in Devon and at Oxford and, as his memorial implies, he first took up a literary career and was a friend of the poet Abraham Cowley. He was later ordained and became a chaplain to George, 2nd Duke of Buckingham. In 1663 he was made a Fellow of the Royal Society and wrote a history of its founding and achievements. In 1669 the King appointed him a prebendary of Westminster and he was also rector of Uffington in Lincolnshire. In October 1676 he married Hellen, daughter of Devereux Wolseley. Thomas became an eminent preacher and held offices at St Margaret’s church, Westminster, and at Windsor. He became Dean of Westminster in 1683 and bishop of Rochester and took part in the coronation of William III and Mary II in 1689.
On 20 May 1713 he died at his residence at Bromley Palace in Kent. Hellen was buried with him in the Abbey in 1726. She presented a blue and silver cope to the Abbey which still remains in the sacristy.
Their son Thomas was born on 5 April 1679 and baptised in the Abbey. He was educated at Westminster School and Christ Church Oxford and was a chaplain to his father and later to Queen Anne and George I. He married Frances Horden in the Abbey on 9 April 1716 (she was buried in the East Cloister in 1734 as Frances Wyat).
Their other son George died young but he has a memorial tablet in St Benedict’s chapel. The Latin can be translated:
“Here lies George Sprat, second son to the Reverend Thomas Sprat, D.D. and Dean of this church, and of Helena his wife, descended from the ancient and honourable family of the Wolseleys in Staffordshire. Born 8th of the Ides of October 1682 and died on the Kalends of October 1683. Of such is the kingdom of heaven”.
Photographs of the monuments and gravestone can be purchased from Westminster Abbey Library.
Oxford Dictionary of National Biography 2004.
Wills for Helen and the Dean are at the National Archives and copies can be ordered from their website www.nationalarchives.gov.uk (note: Thomas will be found under Thomas Rochester rather than Sprat, taking the surname of his bishopric).