He was the son of William Dolben (d. 1631), prebendary of Lincoln and bishop-designate of Gloucester. He was educated at Westminster School under Richard Busby and at Christ Church College, Oxford. He fought on the Royalist side at the Battle of Marston Moor, in 1644. Subsequently he took orders and maintained in private the proscribed Anglican service. At the Restoration, he became canon of Christ Church (1660) and prebendary of St Paul's, London (1661). As Dean of Westminster (1662-1683), he opposed an attempt to bring the abbey under diocesan rule. In 1666 he was made Bishop of Rochester, and in 1683 Archbishop of York; he distinguished himself by reforming the discipline of the cathedrals in these dioceses.
His son, John Dolben, was a politician.