Encyclopedia > John Whitgift

  Article Content

John Whitgift

John Whitgift (c. 1530-1604), English archbishop, was the eldest son of Henry Whitgift, merchant of Great Grimsby, Lincolnshire, where he was born, according to one account in 1533, but according to a calculation founded on a statement of his own in 1530.

At an early age his education was entrusted to his uncle, Robert Whitgift, abbot of the neighbouring monastery of Wellow, by whose advice he was afterwards sent to St Anthony's school, London. In 1549 he matriculated at Queens' College, Cambridge[?], and in May 1550 he migrated to Pembroke Hall, where he had the martyr John Bradford[?] for a tutor. In May 1555 he became a fellow of Peterhouse.

Having taken orders in 1560, he became in the same year chaplain to Richard Cox. bishop of Ely, who collated him to the rectory of Teversham, Cambridgeshire. In 1563 he was appointed Lady Margaret professor of divinity at Cambridge, and his lectures gave such satisfaction to the authorities that on July 5, 1566 they considerably augmented his stipend. The following year he was appointed regius professor of divinity, and also became master first of Pembroke Hall and then of Trinity. He had a principal share in compiling the statutes of the university, which passed the great seal on September 25, 1570, and in November following he was chosen vice-chancellor.

Macaulay's description of Whitgift as "a narrow, mean, tyrannical priest, who gained power by servility and adulation," is tinged with rhetorical exaggeration; but undoubtedly Whitgift's extreme High Church notions led him to treat the Puritans with exceptional intolerance. In a pulpit controversy with Thomas Cartwright, regarding the constitutions and customs of the Church cf England, he showed himself Cartwright's inferior in oratorical effectiveness, but the balance was redressed by the exercise of arbitrary authority. Whitgift, with other heads of the university, deprived Cartwright in 1570 of his professorship, and in September 1571 exercised his prerogative as master of Trinity to deprive him of his fellowship. In June of the same year Whitgift was nominated dean of Lincoln.

In the following year he published An Answere to a Certain Libel intitled an Admonition to the Parliament, which led to further controversy between the two divines. On March 24, 1577, Whitgift was appointed bishop of Worcester, and during the absence of Sir Henry Sidney[?] in Ireland (1577) he acted as vice-president of Wales. In August 1583 he was appointed archbishop of Canterbury, and thus was largely instrumental in giving its special complexion to the church of the Reformation. Although he wrote a letter to Queen Elizabeth remonstrating against the alienation of church property, Whitgift always retained her special confidence. In his policy against the Puritans, and in his vigorous enforcement of the subscription test, he thoroughly carried out the queen's policy of religious uniformity.

He drew up articles aimed at nonconforming ministers, and obtained increased powers for the Court of High Commission. In 1586 he became a privy councillor. His action gave rise to the Marprelate tracts, in which the bishops and clergy were bitterly attacked. Through Whitgift's vigilance the printers of the tracts were, however, discovered and punished; and in order more effectually to check the publication of such opinions he got a law passed in 1593 making Puritanism an offence against the statute law. In the controversy between Walter Travers and Richard Hooker he interposed by prohibiting the preaching of the former; and he moreover presented Hooker with the rectory of Boscombe in Wiltshire, in order to afford him more leisure to complete his Ecclesiastical Polity, a work which, however, cannot be said to represent either Whitgift's theological or his ecclesiastical standpoint.

In 1595 he, in conjunction with the bishop of London and other prelates, drew up the Calvinistic instrument known as the Lambeth Articles, which were not accepted by the church. Whitgift attended Elizabeth on her deathbed, and crowned James I. He was present at the Hampton Court Conference in January 5604, and died at Lambeth on the 20th of the following February. He was buried in the church of Croydon, and his monument there with his recumbent effigy was in great part destroyed in the fire by which the church was burnt down in 1867.

Whitgift is described by his biographer, Sir G. Paule, as of "middle stature, strong and well shaped, of a grave countenance and brown complexion, black hair and eyes, his beard neither long nor thick." He was noted for his hospitality, and was somewhat ostentatious in his habits, sometimes visiting Canterbury and other towns attended by a retinue of 800 horsemen. He left several unpublished works, which are included among the Manuscripts Angliae. Many of his letters, articles, injunctions, etc. are calendared in the published volumes of the "State Paper" series of the reign of Elizabeth. His Collected Works, edited for the Parker Society by John Ayre (3 vols., Cambridge, 1851-1853), include, besides the controversial tracts already alluded to, two sermons published during his lifetime, a selection from his letters to Cecil and others, and some portions of his unpublished manuscripts.

A Life of Whitgift by Sir G. Paule appeared in 1612, 2nd ed. 1649. It was embodied by John Strype in his Life and Acts of Whitgift (1718). There is also a life inc. Wordsworth's Ecclesiastical Biography (1810), WF Hook's Archbishops of Canterbury (1875), and vol. i. of Whitgift's Collected Works. See also CH Cooper's Athenae Cantabrigienses.

This entry was originally from the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.

All Wikipedia text is available under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License

  Search Encyclopedia

Search over one million articles, find something about almost anything!
  Featured Article
Reformed churches

... Dutch immigrants during colonial times. Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America (Scottish Covenanters) United Reformed Church (Dutch Reformed - GKN) United ...

This page was created in 34.3 ms