King's College London
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F. D. Maurice - a life at King's

Early years and religious conversion

an original copy of the ordination documents presented to F. D. Maurice. Presented ‘by Divine Permission of the Bishop of Lichfield’ in ‘the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and thirty four.Maurice’s ordination documents, 1834In 1805, Frederick Maurice was born into a religiously divided family. His father, Michael, was a Unitarian preacher ‘who had a strong feeling against the English Church.’ However, his mother, Priscilla, and his four sisters all abandoned Unitarianism during the early years of Frederick’s life.

As he recalled, ‘I was much confused between the opposite opinions in our household.’

This environment of religious division had a formative influence on his life. As one his biographers has put it, the ‘vehement disagreement[s]’ of his family ‘distressed’ the young boy, leading him ‘to sense that need for religious unity which was to be a guiding principle of all his subsequent thinking.’1

Following in the path of his mothers and sisters, Frederick ultimately also rejected Unitarianism, against his father hopes.

After a brief stint at Trinity College Cambridge and a similarly short-lived career in journalism, in 1830 Maurice returned to university, this time to Exeter College in Oxford to train for ordination in the Anglican Church. Having only been formally baptised into the Church of England in March 1831, he was ordained in 1834.

The years either side of his ordination have been described as ‘a fairly lengthy period of crisis’ in Maurice’s life2. It was during this time that many of his beliefs about religion and society began to crystallise.

A photograph of the frontcover of the manuscript for the second volume of Eustace Conway. The full title reads ‘Eustace and Honoria Conway or Adventures of a Young Philosopher and his Sister’Eustace Conway manuscript In particular, he developed a dislike of idealism and intellectual pride. As he would later reminisce, in his early years his own opinions had been neither ‘very deep’ nor ‘vital convictions’ being ‘honest’ but ‘mixed with much intellectual pride.’

Perhaps more significantly, he also turned against the ‘spirit of party’, reinforcing in his mind the importance of religious unity over division.

Eustace Conway, a semi-autobiographical novel that Maurice wrote in 1834, stands as an important marker of this intellectual development.

Many themes that would become pivotal for his later thinking – the defence of established institutions, and the critique of intellectual arrogance amongst them – are clearly manifest. These ideas came to full maturity in one of his most important life’s works, The Kingdom of Christ (1838).

1: Bernard M.G. Reardon, 'Maurice, (John) Frederick Denison (1805–1872)', ODNB [ 18384, accessed 15 March 2018].

2: Brose, Rebellious Conformist (1971)

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