He was born at Cottenham, Cambridgeshire, and educated at the free school in Norwich, going on to Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, as a scholar on Archbishop Matthew Parker's foundation. He graduated in 1657, and was chosen fellow in 1659. For a short time he studied medicine, but in 1659 was privately ordained. As vicar of St Andrew-the-Great, Cambridge, he set an example by his devoted attention to the sufferers from the plague. In 1667 he was presented to the living of Holywell-cum-Needingworth, Huntingdonshire, by the Earl of Manchester, to whose son he had been tutor, and in 1670 to that of St Peter's Mancroft, Norwich.
In 1680 he received the degree of D.D., and was presented by King Charles II to the important London church of St Martin's-in-the-Fields. Tenison, according to Gilbert Burnet, "endowed schools, set up a public library, and kept many curates to assist him in his indefatigable labours." Being a strenuous opponent of the Church of Rome, and "Whitehall lying within that parish, he stood as in the front of the battle all King James's reign." In 1678, in a Discourse of Idolatry, he had condemned the heathenish idolatry practised in the Church of Rome, and in a sermon which he published in 1681 on Discretion in Giving Alms was attacked by Andrew Pulton, head of the Jesuits in the Savoy. Tenison's reputation as an enemy of Romanism led the Duke of Monmouth, to send for him before his execution in 1685, when Bishops Ken and Turner refused to administer the Eucharist; but, although Tenison spoke to him in "a softer and less peremptory manner" than the two bishops, he was, like them, not satisfied with the sufficiency of Monmouth's penitence.
Under King William III, Tenison was in 1689 named a member of the ecclesiastical commission appointed to prepare matters towards a reconciliation of the Dissenters, the revision of the liturgy being specially entrusted to him. A sermon which he preached on the commission was published the same year. He preached a funeral sermon for Nell Gwyn in 1687, in which he represented her as truly penitent--a charitable judgment which did not meet with universal approval. The general liberality of Tenison's religious views won him royal favour, and, after being made Bishop of Lincoln in 1691, he was promoted to Archbishop of Canterbury in December 1694. He attended Queen Mary during her last illness and preached her funeral sermon in Westminster Abbey. When William in 1695 went to take command of the army in the Netherlands, Tenison was appointed one of the seven lords justices to whom his authority was delegated.
Along with Burnet he attended the king on his death-bed. He crowned Queen Anne, but during her reign was in less favour at court. He was a commissioner for the Union with Scotland in 1706. A strong supporter of the Hanoverian succession, he was one of three officers of state to whom, on the death of Anne, was entrusted the duty of appointing a regent till the arrival of George I, whom he crowned on October 31 1714. Tenison died in London a year later.
This entry was originally from the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.