In the Shadow of Death: A Life of Archibald Campbell Tait, Archbishop of Canterbury

By John Witheridge

A compelling biography of the first Scottish Archbishop of Canterbury, whose political accomplishments shaped the Church in the late nineteenth century.

ISBN: 9780227177433


In this, the first biography of Archibald Campbell Tait since his son-in-law, Randall Davidson’s in 1891, John Witheridge tells the story of how a Scottish outsider became Queen Victoria’s favourite Archbishop of Canterbury, and the most powerful since Laud in the seventeenth century. Following his childhood in Edinburgh and education at Glasgow University and Balliol College, Oxford, Witheridge describes how Tait’s life was shaped by faith, duty and diligence, as well as by harrowing experiences of illness and death.

Tait was never content to be an ecclesiastical dignitary, but was ready to intervene and give a lead in the many conflicts, theological and political, that defined his fourteen years at Lambeth. While not always successful, Tait’s leadership of the Church during a period of controversy at home and challenge overseas, bravely accomplished against a background of personal tragedy, makes him a landmark figure in the history of the Church of England.

Additional information

Dimensions 234 × 156 mm
Pages 207
Illustrations 21 b&w

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Trade Information JPOD

About the Author

John Witheridge specialized in 19th century Church History at Christ’s College, Cambridge, where he was the Tancred Divinity Student. He has been Chaplain to the Archbishop of Canterbury, Senior Chaplain at Eton and Headmaster of Charterhouse. He is a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society and a Chaplain to The Queen. His biography of Dean Stanley of Westminster has been described as ‘a joyous book … an inspiration.’ (Times Literary Supplement)


Family Trees

1. Scottish Inheritance
2. A Balliol Man
3. Discreet and Learned Minister
4. Dr Arnold’s Successor
5. In Death’s Dark Vale
6. The Greatest Diocese of the World
7. New Disputes and New Fears
8. Primate of All England
9. Wrangles and Judgments
10. The Shadows Lengthen

Source Notes
Select Bibliography


Endorsements and Reviews

In the Shadow of Death presents a sympathetic portrait of Queen Victoria’s favourite archbishop, whose life and career were overshadowed by a series of personal tragedies. Witheridge draws on Tait’s prolific correspondence and extensive personal diaries to shed new light on his approach to controversies within the Church (and wider Anglican Communion) and his judicious handling of disputes. The strength of this first modern biography of the archbishop, however, lies in its sensitive depiction of a whole family haunted by bereavement.
Sarah Foot, Regius Professor of Ecclesiastical History, University of Oxford

John Witheridge’s biography of Dean Stanley of Westminster is now followed by this brilliant study of Archbishop A.C. Tait. Both his subjects were liberal-leaning Balliol Men, favoured by the Queen and very influential. However, Tait was the greater, a Scot without aristocratic connections who laboured under immense personal burdens. Witheridge’s book is an excellent example of biographical scholarship that is both readable and accurate. Anyone interested in Victorian Christianity, education or politics should read it.
John Jones, Emeritus Fellow & sometime Fellow-Archivist of Balliol College Oxford

Recurring poor health; chronic overwork; an extraordinary series of personal tragedies; a sturdy faith – all are reflected in the title of this very accessible biography of Queen Victoria’s favourite Archbishop of Canterbury. Witheridge presents a vivid account of this generous, principled courageous cleric grappling with the great ecclesiastical and theological controversies of his day, and gives frequent insights into nineteenth-century social history, not least in Carlisle.
James Newcome, Bishop of Carlisle

If you enjoyed Owen Chadwick’s The Victorian Church, you will certainly enjoy In the Shadow of Death, John Witheridge’s sympathetic biography of Archibald Campbell Tait (1811-82), Archbishop of Canterbury 1868-82… In the Shadow of Death is a well-researched and highly readable book. John Witheridge has rescued Archbishop Tait’s reputation from obscurity. One might not always agree with Tait’s views or methods, but In the Shadow of Death reveals him to have been a devout, hard-working and conscientious archbishop.
Robert Beaken, New Directions, September 2022