Francis Atterbury

Francis Atterbury, Dean of Westminster, is buried at the west end of the nave of Westminster Abbey but has no monument. He was born on 6th March 1663 at Milton (or Middleton) Keynes in Buckinghamshire, the second son of the Reverend Lewis Atterbury (drowned in 1693) and his wife Elizabeth (d.1668), daughter of Francis Giffard. He was educated at Westminster school, like his brother Lewis (1656-1731), and Christ Church, Oxford. Ordained in 1687 he soon became a well-known preacher. Having been a Canon of Exeter, Dean of Carlisle and of Christ Church he was appointed Dean of Westminster in 1713. This office was held with that of the bishopric of Rochester at this period.

During his time at the Abbey he was involved in the rebuilding of the School dormitory, superintended Sir Christopher Wren's restoration of the north front and chose the subjects for the glass in the north rose window. In 1695 he married Catherine Osborne and had one son Osborne and two daughters Elizabeth and Mary. He was a High Churchman and a Tory and although he officiated at the coronation of George I he lost favour under the Hanoverians.

His portrait hangs in the Deanery. A basin and ewer (washing jug), made for him in 1714 by John Jackson, is on display in the Queen's Diamond Jubilee Galleries at the Abbey.

Arrest and death

In 1722 he was arrested at the Deanery and taken to the Tower of London, charged with conspiracy to set the Jacobite Pretender on the throne. He was deprived of his offices and sent to Paris in permanent exile, where he died on 22nd February 1732. By his own wish his body was returned to Westminster Abbey, from Dieppe, for burial with his wife and daughters in the nave in a vault which had been constructed while he was still Dean in 1721. According to the Gentleman's Magazine of April 1732 the body was brought along the Thames on board the ship Moors and Customs officers, searching nominally for lace contraband but really for treasonable papers, found packed up with it some pieces of French silk brocaded with silver which they seized. The space between the lead coffin and the wood was packed with straw for the journey.

The inscription on the stone reads:

Francis Atterbury, Dean of Westminster and Bishop of Rochester born March 6th 1663. Died at Paris Feby. 22 buried here May 12th 1732. Also Elizabeth, his daughter, died 1716. His wife Catherine, died 1722. And his daughter Mary, wife of William Morice, High Bailiff of Westminster, Died at Toulouse Novr. 8th 1729. Buried Feby. 21st 1730.

An epitaph he had written himself was not permitted to be inscribed on the stone and no monument was erected for him. His coat of arms is "paly of six, or and gules, a chief vair" ie. vertical bars of gold and red, with blue and white along the top part of the shield.

His only son Osborne was born 3rd March 1705. After Westminster School he went to Oxford university but took no degree and became a merchant seaman, travelling to Barbados, India and China. On his return to England he was ordained and became Rector of Great Houghton in Northamptonshire, where he was buried in 1752. He married Sarah Ashworth and had nine children, most of whom died young, although his son Francis (1734-1822) continued the family tradition of entering the Church (he was also educated at Westminster and was prebendary of Cloyne and rector of Clonmel in co. Cork, Ireland. He married Mary Berkeley and a son Charles Lewis attended the School and became a vicar but was killed by the overturning of a coach in 1823)..

The Dean's brother Lewis (1656-1731) was also an eminent clergyman and chaplain in ordinary to Queen Anne and George I. He married Penelope Bedingfield (sister of Sir Robert, sometime Lord Mayor of London) and had three children.

Further reading

Oxford Dictionary of National Biography

"Francis Atterbury" by H.C. Beeching, (1909)

"Memoirs and correspondence of Francis Atterbury" by F. Williams, 2 vols. 1869

"The Tory Crisis in Church and State ...the career of Francis Atterbury" by G.V. Bennett (1975).

Letters from Mary to her father survive in the Abbey archives as well as letters from Francis and diary of William Morice of voyages between London and Bordeaux 1729


6th March 1663


22nd February 1732


12th May 1732


Dean; priest/minister



Memorial Type


Francis Atterbury
Francis Atterbury

This image can be purchased from Westminster Abbey Library

Image © 2024 Dean and Chapter of Westminster

Francis Atterbury
Francis Atterbury grave

This image can be purchased from Westminster Abbey Library

Image © 2024 Dean and Chapter of Westminster

Francis Atterbury
Atterbury dish and ewer

This image can be purchased from Westminster Abbey Library

Image © 2024 Dean and Chapter of Westminster