Cooper, Thomas (1517?-1594) (DNB00)

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COOPER or COUPER, THOMAS (1517?–1594), bishop of Winchester, was born in Oxford, the son of a very poor tailor in Cat Street, and educated as one of the choristers in Magdalen College school. He made so much progress that he was elected probationer of the college in 1539, and after graduating became a fellow and master of the school in which he had been educated. Among his eminent pupils was William Camden. It had been Cooper's intention to take orders, but having adopted protestant views he found himself checked by the accession of Queen Mary; he therefore changed his purpose, took a degree in physic, and began to practise in Oxford. In 1545 Thomas Lanquet died while writing a ‘Chronicle of the World.’ He had brought it down from the creation to A.D. 17, and now Cooper undertook to carry it on to the reign of Edward VI. His portion is about thrice as much as Lanquet's, and the whole was published in 1549. Another edition was surreptitiously put forth, with additions by a third writer, in 1559, greatly to Cooper's annoyance, who published two more editions under the title of ‘Cooper's Chronicle,’ one in 1560, and another in 1565. All these are in quarto.

Simultaneously with the ‘Chronicle’ he had engaged in another work, which was published in folio in 1548, ‘Bibliotheca Eliotæ. Sive Dictionarium Lat. et Angl. auctum et emend. per Tho. Cooper.’ A second edition was published in 1552, entitled ‘Eliot's Dictionary, the second time enriched and more perfectly corrected by Thos. Cooper, school-master of Maudlen's in Oxford.’ And a third edition appeared in 1559.

On the death of Queen Mary he recurred to his original purpose and was ordained, speedily gaining the character of a zealous preacher. And now he engaged in by far his greatest literary work, ‘Thesaurus Linguæ Romanæ et Britannicæ … op. et ind. T. Cooperi Magdalenensis. Accessit Dictionarium Historicum et Poeticum,’ Lond. 1565. It was reprinted in 1573, 1578, and 1584. This book, commonly known as ‘Cooper's Dictionary,’ delighted Queen Elizabeth so much that she expressed her determination to promote the author as far as lay in her power. His life, however, was anything but happy. He had married unhappily, his wife was utterly profligate. He condoned her unfaithfulness again and again, refusing to be divorced when the heads of the university offered to arrange it for him, and declaring that he would not charge his conscience with so great a scandal. On one occasion his wife, in a paroxysm of fury, tore up half his ‘Thesaurus,’ and threw it into the fire. He patiently set to work and rewrote it (Aubrey's Lives, ii. 290).

In 1562 he began to engage in controversy. A reply to Bishop Jewel's ‘Apology’ had been written and circulated, apparently in manuscript only, entitled ‘An Apology of Private Mass.’ To this an answer now appeared: ‘An Answer in Defence of the Truth against the Apology of Private Mass,’ the work replied to being prefixed. In the ‘Biographia Britannica,’ and in Jelf's edition of Jewel's works, this treatise is attributed to Jewel, but erroneously. In the preface Jewel is referred to as ‘a worthy learned man,’ and Dr. Cradocke, Margaret professor of divinity of Oxford, writing in 1572, speaks of it as ‘the treatise of the right reverend father, Bishop Cowper.’ And Fulke, also writing in Cooper's lifetime, calls it his. This treatise was reprinted under the auspices of the Parker Society, and edited by Dean Goode in 1850. In 1567 Cooper was made dean of Christ Church, and for several years was vice-chancellor. In 1569 he was appointed to the deanery of Gloucester, and in 1570–1 to the bishopric of Lincoln. In 1573 he published a ‘Brief Exposition’ of the Sunday lessons, of which Archbishop Parker thought so highly that he wrote to the lord treasurer requesting him to recommend to the queen's council that orders should be given to have a copy placed in every parish church, ‘for that the more simple the doctrine was to the people, the sooner might they be edified, and in an obedience reposed’ (Strype, Parker). Other works of his during his occupation of the see of Lincoln were ‘A True and Perfect Copy of a Godly Sermon preached in the Minster at Lincoln 28 Aug. 1575, on Matt. xvi. 26, 27;’ ‘Articles to be enquired of within the Diocese of Lincoln in the Visitation,’ 1574; ‘Injunction to be observed throughout the Diocese,’ 1577; and ‘Certain Sermons wherein is contained the Defence of the Gospel against cavils and false accusations … by the friends and favourers of the Church of Rome,’ 1580. There are twelve of these sermons, on Rom. i. 16; Matt. vii. 15, 16; 1 Cor. x. 1, 3, 5; Matt. xiii. 3, 5; John viii. 46.

In 1584, on the death of Bishop Watson, he was translated to Winchester, which he held for ten years, ‘where,’ says Wood, ‘as in most parts of the nation, he became much noted for his learning and sanctity of life.’ Godwin agrees with this opinion, ‘a man from whose praises I can hardly temper my pen.’ Winchester had been notoriously so rich a see, that a witticism of Bishop Edyngdon had been constantly quoted to the effect that ‘Canterbury had the highest rack, but Winchester had the deepest manger.’ It was repeated to Cooper, who replied that he found that much of the provender had been swept out of the manger—a reference to recent confiscation of church property. On his appointment to this see he issued as visitor certain injunctions to the president and fellows of Magdalen, in which he lamented the infrequency of the administration of holy communion, and ordered that it should be celebrated on the first Sunday in every month, and received by as many members of the society as possible. Remarking on the negligent manner in which the public services of the chapel were performed on Sundays and at other times, he ordered that if any fellow, demy, chaplain, or clerk came late, went early, or misbehaved himself, he should be admonished and punished by the president, vice-president, and dean.

He had not been long in his new see before he was again in controversy, and with a formidable adversary, namely ‘Martin Marprelate.’ Under this name appeared in 1588–1589 a series of seven tracts, attacking the English prelacy with coarse wit and invective. Several answers appeared of the same tone and character, in rhyme and in prose. Cooper also replied, but with such gravity as became his position, in his ‘Admonition to the People of England, wherein are answered not only the slanderous untruths reproachfully uttered by Martin the Libeller, but also many other crimes by some of the brood, objected generally against all Bishops and the chief of the Clergy purposely to deface and discredit the present state of the church,’ 1589. It was published anonymously, but with the initials T. C. at the end of the preface. There is no question of its being Cooper's. Martin retorted in a pamphlet entitled, ‘Ha' ye any work for the Cooper?’

A few manuscripts by Bishop Cooper are in existence. A Latin address of congratulation from the university of Oxford to Queen Elizabeth on her visit to the Earl of Leicester, the chancellor of the university, delivered before her by Cooper himself, is at C. C. C. A document at Corpus Christi, Cambridge, is entitled ‘Thomæ Cooperi Christiana cum fratribus consultatio, utrum pii verbi ministri præscriptam a magistratibus vestium rationem suscipere et liquido possint et jure debeant.’ And there is a book of ordinances and decrees drawn up for Magdalen College, Oxford, by Cooper as visitor in 1585. In the Record Office are also some autographs, one of much interest to local historians, concerning the musters of his diocese, addressed to the Earl of Essex, lord-lieutenant of Hampshire.

Bishop Milner, the Roman catholic historian of Winchester, charges Cooper with the establishment of a cruel persecution of his co-religionists in Hampshire. But this is somewhat hard on Cooper. The increase of persecution was owing to the new act of 1581, and Cooper's appointment to Winchester synchronises with the beginning of hostilities with Spain. Milner, after naming some priests who perished as traitors at Winchester, gives, on the authority of a manuscript by one Stanney, of St. Omer, details of the execution of five laymen. But a letter of Bishop Cooper is in the Record Office in which he recommends ‘that an hundred or two of obstinate recusants, lusty men, well able to labour, might by some convenient commission be taken up and sent to Flanders as pioneers and labourers, whereby the country would be disburdened of a company of dangerous people, and the rest that remained be put in some fear.’ A return made in 1582 states the number of recusants in Hampshire as 132, more than in any county except York and Lancashire, which have 327 and 428 respectively.

Cooper seems also to have exerted himself, by command of Queen Elizabeth, in putting down ‘prophesyings’ in his diocese.

He died at Winchester on 29 April 1594, and was buried in the choir, near the bishop's seat. A monument placed over his grave described him as ‘munificentissimus, doctissimus, vigilantissimus, summe benignus egenis.’ It has now disappeared; probably, as Milner suggests, it was removed on the repairing of the choir. He left a widow (Amy) and two daughters, Elizabeth, wife of John Belli, provost of Oriel, and afterwards chancellor of the diocese of Lincoln, and Mary, wife of John Gouldwell, gent.

[Wood's Athenæ Oxon. (Bliss), i. 608; Harrington's Nugæ Antiquæ, i. 69; Cassan's Lives of the Bishops of Winchester, ii. 36–48; Milner's History of Winchester, i. 290; Cooper's Athenæ Cantab. ii. 166; Bloxam's Register of Magd. Coll., Oxford.]

W. B.