Feast of Anthony Ashley Cooper, Lord Shaftesbury, Seventh Earl of Shaftesbury, and British Humanitarian (October 1)   2 comments

Houses of Parliament, London, England, United Kingdom

An Image in the Public Domain



Lord Shaftesbury

Seventh Earl of Shaftesbury

Member of Parliament


Social Reformer

Anthony Ashley Cooper, born in London on April 28, 180, was a son of Cropley Cooper, brother of the Fifth Earl of Shaftesbury.  Cooper’s mother, Anne, was daughter of the Fourth Earl of Marlborough.  The Fifth Earl of Shaftesbury died in 1811, so Cooper’s father became the Sixth Earl and Cooper became Lord Shaftesbury.  Our hero succeeded his father as Earl of Shaftesbury in 1851.

Born into nobility and educated at Oxford, Lord Shaftesbury represented successive constituencies most of the years from 1826 to 1851, when he transferred to the House of Lords.  While in the House of Commons, he began his work of improving the lives of vulnerable people.  For example, residents of lunatic asylums, as people called them at the time, were social outcasts subject to notorious abuses.  Cooper, however, was able to remove most of the worst abuses.  Lunatics, he said, were ill, therefore in need of treatment, not abuse and ostracism.  He took up this cause in 1828 and continued it for many years.

Other vulnerable people Lord Shaftesbury helped included factory and mine workers.  He secured government regulation of working hours, reducing the workday to ten hours.  This happened in 1847, after years of negotiation and strong opposition.  And mine owners opposed the Mines Act of 1842, which outlawed  the employment of all women and girls plus all boys younger than thirteen years in such conditions.

Lord Shaftesbury also lobbied for public health after an 1841 tour of the East End of London.  He believed that all people should have access to proper housing, clean water, and what the 1968 Encyclopedia Britannica called politely “the disposal of nuisances.”  From this portion of Cooper’s career came a series of public health laws, including the building and annual inspection of clean, safe, and sanitary housing for members of the working class.

Cooper continued the good work as a member of the House of Lords, for he worked on housing issues (just to offer one example) until the end of his life.  He also took an interest in free public schools for poor children.  These were the “rugged schools” and, for four decades, Lord Shaftesbury served as President of the Rugged School Union.

Why did Lord Shaftesbury engage in these works?  He said it best in 1828, in the context of his effort to reform asylums:  “By God’s blessing, my first effort has been for the advancement of human happiness.”  And, as he told his biographer many years later, while speaking of a man’s religion, “if it is worth anything, [it] should enter into every sphere of life, and rule his conduct in every relation.”

The Episcopal Church added Lord Shaftesbury to its calendar of saints in 2009, pairing him with William Wilberforce on July 30.  Wilberforce, of course, worked long and hard for the abolition of the slave trade and slavery within the British Empire.  So this is a logical pairing, for Cooper, like Wilberforce a member of the Evangelical wing of The Church of England, also opposed slavery strongly.  Yet I think it appropriate to give Lord Shaftesbury, who died on October 1, 1885, his own feast day.

Lord Shaftesbury was able at least to ease the burdens and suffering of many vulnerable people.  He could not outlaw all child labor, for example, but he could and did ban much of it.  To do something positive is better than doing nothing for others.   It matters that we do what we can–play our part–and pass the baton to others, who will continue our work.  What will your contribution be?  How will you leave your corner of the world better than you found it?

By way of giving credit where it is due, I acknowledge my great debt of gratitude to the 1968 Encyclopedia Britannica and the 1962 Encyclopedia Americana.  (I knew that keeping them was a good idea!)  The collect and choice of readings, however, originate with me.


Loving God, who sent a succession of prophets to remind people, potentates, and societies of the obligation to care for the poor, the vulnerable, and the marginalized, thank  you for the holy example of Anthony Ashley Cooper, Seventh Earl of Shaftesbury.  May we also persist in seeking to help others, and may we succeed, by grace, for the benefit of others, and for the glory of your holy Name.  Amen.

Isaiah 1:1-31

Psalm 8

1 Corinthians 13:1-13

Luke 8:26-39





2 responses to “Feast of Anthony Ashley Cooper, Lord Shaftesbury, Seventh Earl of Shaftesbury, and British Humanitarian (October 1)

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  1. Pingback: Feast of All Christian Statesmen and Stateswomen (October 13) « SUNDRY THOUGHTS

  2. Pingback: Feast of Caroline Chisholm (May 16) | SUNDRY THOUGHTS

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