Archbishop Tait: a Life Beset by Tragedy

A recent blog described the illness and recovery in 1928/9 of a Scot who became Archbishop of Canterbury, Cosmo Gordon Lang (1864-1945). However such misfortune appears small in comparison with those suffered by the first Scot to hold the role, Archibald Campbell Tait (1811-1882), who endured numerous personal tragedies throughout his life.

Archbishop Archibald Tait, Lambeth Palace portrait by Sidney Hodges

Archbishop Archibald Tait, Lambeth Palace portrait by Sidney Hodges

His experience of ill health began early in his life. He had been born with club feet which were bent double, and he underwent a painful procedure to straighten them out when he was eight. Two of his eight elder siblings had already died young, and as a child Tait had a bout of scarlet fever. He recovered, but one of his brothers did not. It was a disease which was to make a painful return to his family. Tait succeeded Thomas Arnold as headmaster of Rugby School in 1842, but the experience was not a happy one, and included him surviving a bout of rheumatic fever in 1848, prior to his taking up the post of Dean of Carlisle in 1850.

Catharine Spooner, MS 2551 ff.105-6

Catharine Spooner, MS 2551 ff.105-6

Tait had married Catharine Spooner, daughter of the Archdeacon of Coventry in 1843. In 1856, during a period of around five weeks, five of their seven children died of scarlet fever. They were all girls between two and ten years old. A son and a daughter survived, and two daughters were born later. Tait became Bishop of London later in 1856, and was translated to Canterbury in 1868.

Archibald Tait, Archbishop of Canterbury MS 4502.13

Archibald Tait, Archbishop of Canterbury MS 4502.13

He had reached the apex of his chosen profession, but the tragedies continued. He suffered a series of strokes in 1869 which again brought him close to death. Craufurd, their only son, having followed his father into the Church, was diagnosed with illness in 1877, which led to his death in May 1878. Within six months, Catharine too had died. Archbishop Tait himself died on 3rd December 1882.

Archbishop Tait’s three daughters who survived him, Agnes (standing), Lucy (left) and Edith (right)

Archbishop Tait’s three daughters who survived him, Agnes (standing), Lucy (left) and Edith (right) MS 4502.41

 

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