Brett, Thomas (DNB00)

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Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 06
Brett, Thomas

by Leslie Stephen
1904 Errata appended.
"Howes" would be a mistake for Samuel Hawes.

BRETT, THOMAS (1667–1743), nonjuring divine, was the son of Thomas Brett of Spring Grove, Wye, Kent. His father descended from a family long settled at Wye; his mother was Letitia, daughter of John Boys of Betshanger, Sandwich, where Brett was born. He was educated at the Wye grammar school, under John Paris and Samuel Pratt (afterwards dean of Rochester), and on 20 March 1684 admitted pensioner of Queens' College, Cambridge. He was removed by his father for extravagance, but permitted to return. He then found that his books had been 'embezzled by an idle scholar,' and migrated to Corpus on 17 Jan. 1689. He took the LL.B. degree on the St. Barnabas day following. He was ordained deacon on 21 Dec. 1690. After holding a curacy at Folkestone for a year he was ordained priest, and chosen lecturer at Islington. The vicar, Mr. Gery, encouraged him to exchange his early whiggism for tory and high-church principles. On the death of his father, his mother persuaded him to return (May 1696) to Spring Grove, where he undertook the cure of Great Chart. Here he married Bridget, daughter of Sir Nicholas Toke. In 1697 he became LL.D., and soon afterwards exchanged Great Chart for Wye. He became rector of Betshanger on the death of his uncle, Thomas Boys; and on 12 April 1705 Archbishop Tenison made him rector of Ruckinge, having previously allowed him to hold the small vicarage of Chislet 'in sequestration.' He had hitherto taken the oaths without scruple; but the attempts of his relation, Chief-baron Gilbert, to bring him back to whiggism had the reverse of the effect intended; and Sacheverell's trial induced him to resolve never to take the oath again. He published a sermon 'on the remission of sins,' in 1711, which gave offence by its high view of sacerdotal absolution, and was attacked by Dr. Robert Cannon [q. v.] in convocation (22 Feb. 1712). The proposed censure was dropped apparently by the action of Atterbury as prolocutor (Letter about a Motion in Convocation, &c. 1712). In a later sermon 'On the Honour of the Cnristian Priesthood' he disavowed a belief in auricular confession. On the accession of George I, Brett declined to take the oaths, resigned his living, and was received into communion by the nonjuring bishop Hickes. He afterwards officiated in his own house. He was presented at the assizes for keeping a conventicle, and in 1718 and 1729 complaints were made against him to Archbishop Wake for interfering with the duties of the parish clergyman. He was, however, let off with a reproof.

Brett was consecrated bishop by the nonjuring bishops Collier, Spinckes, and Howes, in 1716. He took part in a negotiation which they opened in 1716 with the Greek archbishop of Thebais, then in London, and which continued till 1725, when it was allowed to drop. Brett's account, with copies of a proposed 'concordate,' and letters to the Czar of Moscovy and his ministers, is given by Lathbury (History of Nonjurors, 1845, p. 309), from the manuscripts of Bishop Jolly. Before a definitive reply had been received from the Greek prelates, the church which made the overture had split into two in consequence of a controversy. Brett supported Collier in proposing to return to the use of the first liturgy of Edward VI, as nearer the use of the primitive church. He defended his view in a postscript to his work on 'Tradition.' He took part in various controversies connected with the nonjuring question, and joined in consecrating bishops with Collier and the Scotch bishop, Campbell. In 1727 he consecrated Thomas Brett, junior. He also contributed some notes to Zachary Grey's edition of 'Hudibras' (published 1744). Brett was an amiable man, of pleasant conversation, and lived quietly in his own house, where he died on 5 March 1743. He had twelve children. His wife died on 7 May 1765; his son, Nicholas, chaplain to Sir Robert Cotton, on 20 Aug. 1776.

Brett published many books of which full titles are given in Nichols's 'Anecdotes,' i. 411. They are as follows: 1. 'An Account of Church Government,' 1707, answered by Nokes in the 'Beautiful Pattern;' and enlarged edition 1710, answered by John Lewis, 1711, in 'Presbyters not always an authoritative part of Provincial Synods;' to which Brett replied. 2. 'Two Letters on the Times wherein Marriage is said to be prohibited,' 1708. 3. 'Letter to the Author of "Lay Baptism Invited,"' &c. (condemning lay baptism). This led to a controversy with Joseph Bingham, who replied in 'Scholastical History of Lay Baptism,' 1712. 4. Sermons on 'Remission of Sins,' 1711, reprinted with five others in 1715. 5. 'Review of Lutheran Principles,' 1714, answered by John Lewis. 6. 'Vindication of Himself from Calumnies' (charging him with popery), 1715. 7. 'Independency of the Church upon the State,' 1717. 8. 'The Divine Right of Episcopacy,' 1718. 9. 'Tradition necessary, &c.,' 1718, with answer to Toland's 'Nazarenus.' 10. 'The Necessity of discerning Christ's Body in the Holy Communion,' 1720. 11. 'Collection of the Principal Liturgies used by the Christian Church, &c.,' 1720; this was in reference to the schism of the nonjuring body. 12. 'Discourses concerning the ever blessed Trinity,' 1720. 13. Contributions to the 'Bibliotheca Literaria,' Nos. 1, 2, 4, and 8, upon 'University Degrees,' 'English Translations of the Bible,' and 'Arithmetical Figures.' 14. 'Instruction to a Person newly Confirmed,' 1725. 15. 'Chronological Essay on the Sacred History,' 1729. 16. 'General History of the World,' 1732. 17. 'Answer to (Hoadly's) "Plain Account of the Sacrament,"' 1735. 18. 'Remarks on Dr. Waterland's "Review of the Doctrine of the Eucharist,"' 1741. 19. 'Four Letters on Necessity of Episcopal Communion,' 1743. 20. 'Life of John Johnson,' prefixed to his posthumous tracts in 1748. There are also several sermons and tracts. There is a letter of his to Dr. Warren, of Trinity Hall, in Peck's 'Desiderata Curiosa' (lib. vii. p. 13). Three letters of his on the difference between Anglican and Romish tenets were published from the manuscripts of Thomas Bowdler in 1850; and a short essay on suffragan bishops and rural deans was edited by J. Fendall from the manuscript in 1858.

[Nichols's Literary Anecdotes, i. 407-12; Masters's Corpus Coll. Cambr. (1753), 245-8; Appendix, p. 87; Lathbury's Nonjurors, passim.]

L. S.

Dictionary of National Biography, Errata (1904), p.36
N.B.— f.e. stands for from end and l.l. for last line

Page Col. Line  
285 i 7f.e. Brett, Thomas: for 1743 read 1744
286 i 21  for 1743 read 1743-4