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Huntingdon, Selina Hastings, Countess Of

HUNTINGDON, SELINA HASTINGS, COUNTESS OF (1707- 1791), English religious leader and founder of a sect of Calvinistic Methodists, known as the Countess of Huntingdon's Connexion, was the daughter of Washington Shirley, 2nd Earl Ferrers. She was born at Stanton Harold, a mansion near Ashby-de-la-Zouch in Leicestershire, on the 24th of August 1707, and in her twentyfirst year was married to Theophilus Hastings, 9th earl of Huntingdon. In 1739 she joined the first Methodist society in Fetter Lane, London. On the death of her husband in 1746 she threw in her lot with Wesley and Whitefield in the work of the great revival. Isaac Watts, Philip Doddridge and A. M. Toplady were among her friends. In 1748 she gave Whitefield a scarf as her chaplain, and in that capacity he frequently preached in her London house in Park Street to audiences that included Chesterfield, Walpole and Bolingbroke. In her chapel at Bath there was a curtained recess dubbed " Nicodemus's corner " where some of the bishops sat incognito to hear him. Lady Huntingdon spent her ample means in building chapels in different parts of England, e.g. at Brighton (1761), London and Bath (1765), Tunbridge Wells (1769), and appointed ministers to officiate in them, under the impression that as a peeress she had a right to employ as many chaplains as she pleased. It is said that she expended 100,000 in the cause of religion. In 1768 she converted the old mansion of Trevecca, near Talgarth, in South Wales, into a theological seminary for young ministers for the connexion. Up to 1779 Lady Huntingdon and her chaplains continued members of the Church of England, but in that year the prohibition of her chaplains by the consistorial court from preaching in the Pantheon, a large building in London rented for the purpose by the countess, compelled her, in order to evade the injunction, to take shelter under the Toleration Act. This step, which placed her legally among dissenters, had the effect of severing from the connexion several eminent and useful members, among them William Romaine (1714-1795) and Henry Venn (1725-1797). Till her death in London on the 17th of June 1791, Lady Huntingdon continued to exercise an active, and even autocratic, superintendence over her chapels and chaplains. She successfully petitioned George III. in regard to the gaiety of Archbishop Cornwallis's establishment, and made a vigorous protest against the anti-Calvinistic minutes of the Wesleyan Conference of 1770, and against relaxing the terms of subscription in 1772. Her sixty-four chapels and the college were bequeathed to four trustees. In 1792 the college was removed to Cheshunt, Hertfordshire, where it remained till 1905, when it was transferred to Cambridge. The college is remarkable for the number of men it has sent into the foreign mission field.

The connexion in 1910 consisted of 44 churches and mission stations, with a roll of about 2400 communicants under 26 ordained pastors. The government is vested by the trust deed, sanctioned by the court of Chancery on the 1st of January 1899, in nine trustees assisted by a conference of delegates from each church in the trust. The endowments of the trust produce 1500 per annum, and are devoted to four purposes: grants in aid of the ministry; annuities to ministers over sixty years of age who have given more than twenty years' continuous service in the connexion, or to their widows; grants for the maintenance and extension of the existing buildings belonging to the trust ; grants to assist in purchasing chapels and chapel sites. In addition the trustees may grant loans for the encouragement of new progressive work from a loan fund of about 8000.

See The Life of the Countess of Huntingdon (London, 2 vols., 1844) ; A. H. New, The Coronet and the Cross, or Memorials of Selina, Countess of Huntingdon (1857); Sarah Tytler, The Countess of Huntingdon and her Circle (1907).

Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)

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