Chambers, John (d.1556) (DNB00)

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CHAMBERS, JOHN (d. 1556), the last abbot and the first bishop of Peterborough, was born at Peterborough, from which circumstance he was sometimes called Burgh or Borowe. He became a monk in the great Benedictine abbey of that place, and eventually elected its abbot in 1528. He was studied both at Oxford and Cambridge, but chiefly at the latter, where, 'as it seems,' writes Wood, 'he was admitted to the reading of the sentences' (Athenae Oxon. ii. 778), and where he took the degree of M.A. in 1505, and that of B.D. in 1539. Two years after his election as abbot (1530) Chambers received Wolsey, then on his last progress to his northern province. The cardinal kept Easter at Peterborough with great state, After Wolsey's fall Chambers himself, who is described as 'a safe and conformable person,' by timely acquiescence maintained his position, with only some external modifications, to the end of his life. When Dr. Layton, the unscrupulous agent of Henry VIII, accompanied by Richard, the nephew of Thomas Cromwell, was at Ramsey Abbey, and had marked Peterborough as his next victim, Chambers desired an interview with Sir William Parr, afterwards marquis of Northampton, in the vain hope of averting dissolution by copious bribery. If the abbey were spared, the king's majesty should enjoy the whole proceeds of the monastic estates for a year, and Cromwell himself should receive 300l. 'if he would bee goode lorde to hym' (Letter of Parr to Cromwell, Cotton MSS., Cleopatra E. iv. 205; Dugdale, Mon. Angl. i. 365). Finding his abbey foredoomed, Chambers discreetly made no further resistance. The abbey accordingly was surrendered to the king in 1539, Chambers being appointed guardian of the temporalities, with an annual pension of 266l. 13s. 4d. and a hundred loads' of wood. He became one of the royal chaplains and proceeded to his degree of B.D. at Cambridge the same year (1539). Chambers, enjoying a large command of money, was in no want of powerful friends. At the close of the same year Lord Russell, in the letter he wrote to Cromwell relating the judicial murder of Abbot Whiting of Glastonbury, of whom he had been one of the judges, found room for an adroit complimentary reference to Abbot Chambers. On 4 Sept. 1541 letters patent were issued converting the abbey church of Peterborough into a cathedral church, with a dean and chapter and ecclesiastical staff, Henry, thus it is said, by a tardy act of repentance, erecting the noblest possible monument to his first wife, who had been buried in the abbey church in January 1536. Chambers now became the first bishop of the new see, and had his old home, 'the abbot's lodgings,' alias 'the abbot's side,' together with 'the great stone tower known as the knight's chamber,' granted him as his house of residence. Other members of the house were provided for on the new foundation. The list of prebendaries included the former prior and one of the brethren, while the prior of St. Andrews at Northampton became the dean. The new bishop was consecrated in his former abbey church 23 Oct. 1541, by Bishop Goodrich of Ely, assisted by his suffragan, Robert. Blyth, bishop of Dover, and the suffragan of the bishop of Lincoln, Thomas Hallam, bishop (in partibus) of Philadelphia (Rymer, Foedera, xi. 731-6; Stubbs, Episcopal Succession, p. 79). Nothing seems to be recorded of his episcopate, which lasted through the reign of Edward VI into that of Mary, when he saw the mass restored. What we can gather of his character leads to the conclusion that he would calmly acquiesce in this as he had acquiesced in former changes; 'a man,' writes Mr. Ayliffe Poole, 'to live through history, which indeed he did, with considerable success,' not a man to make history. He died, 'in good and perfect memory,' 7 Feb. 1556, and was buried in the choir of his cathedral with great pomp on 6 March. There is a contemporaneous account of his funeral in Machyn's 'Diary,' pp. 101, 384. There were formerly two monuments to him: one with a monumental brass put up by him in his lifetime, engraved with a laudatory epitaph, with blanks left for the dates of his decease, which were never filled in; and another of great stateliness, with a recumbent effigy described as exquisitely carved. Both of these were destroyed during the havoc of the civil wars. By his will, dated 31 Dec. 1554, among other bequests he left a pix and two silver candlesticks to his cathedral. According to Fuller, Chambers was appointed by the convocation of 1542, in conjunction with Wakeman of Gloucester, to revise the translation of the Apocalypse for the proposed new edition of the great Bible, so capriciously set aside by the royal will (Dixon, Hist. of Ch. of England, iii. 286). Godwin (De Praesulibus, ii. 138) has erroneously identified the bishop of Peterborough with John Chambre [q. v.], a doctor of physic, of Merton College, Oxford, who became dean of St. Stephen's, Westminster, and died in 1549 (Wood, Fasti, i. 89).

[Wood's Athenae Oxon. ii. 773; Cooper's Athenae Cantab, i. 142; Gunton's Peterborough Cathedral, pp. 57, 530; Dugdale's Monast. Anglic, i. 363-89; Wright's Letters concerning Suppression of Monasteries, pp. 178, 260; Rymer's Foedera, xi. 731-6; Ayliffe Poole's Diocesan Hist. Peterborough, S.P.C.K.]

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