Gifford, George (d.1620) (DNB00)

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Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 21
Gifford, George (d.1620)

by Emily Tennyson Bradley
Date of death 1600 in the ODNB.

GIFFORD, GEORGE (d. 1620), divine, was a student at Hart Hall, Oxford, ‘several years before 1568’ (Wood, Athenæ, Bliss, ii. 201). He took no degree at Oxford, and seems to have graduated B.A. (1569–70) and M.A. (1573) from Christ's College, Cambridge. It is probable that he is the George Gifford who, aged 30, was ordained by the bishop of London both deacon and priest in Dec. 1578. In 1573 he published a translation from the Latin of Fulke's ‘Prelections upon the Sacred and Holy Revelations.’ His next work, ‘Country Divinity, containing a Discourse of Certain Points of Religion which are among the common sort of Christians, with a Plain Confutation thereof,’ London, 1581, 8vo, was probably the cause of his presentation in August 1582, by Richard Franks, to the living of All Saints' with St. Peter's at Maldon, Essex (Newcourt, Repert. ii. 398). In 1582 he published a ‘Dialogue between a Papist and a Protestant applied to the capacity of the unlearned,’ and in 1584 a tract ‘Against the Priesthood and Sacrifice of the Church of Rome …,’ London, 1584, 8vo. He also published ‘A Cathechism containing the sum of Religion …,’ London, 1583, 8vo, and 1586. He won a reputation as ‘a great and diligent preacher’ (Brook, Lives of the Puritans, ii. 273), and was much valued at Maldon for the reformation effected by his preaching (Strype, Annals, iii. ii. 470). In January and February 1584 he joined a synod of nonconformist Essex ministers in London (Bancroft, Dangerous Positions, 2nd edit. reprint, p. 75), and publicly refused to subscribe the articles of the established church. For this he was suspended. A further charge that he had preached limited obedience to civil magistrates and used conventicles and secret teachings was disproved, and he is said to have been released and again arrested on a charge of nonconformity. He was tried before the high commissioners in May or June 1584. Fifty-two of Gifford's parishioners sent in a petition praying for his restoration to his living; in it they testified to his usefulness in Maldon and to his innocence of the charges against him. Burghley interceded, seconded by Sir Francis Knowles, with Whitgift (May 1584) on his behalf (Neal, Puritans, i. 291). Both the archbishop and Aylmer, bishop of London, were immovable, as they considered Gifford to be ‘a ringleader of the nonconformists,’ and he was therefore deprived of his living, to which on 18 June another vicar, Wyersdale, was instituted (David, Annals of Nonconformity in Essex, p. 126). He was, however, allowed to hold the office of lecturer and continued preaching at Maldon, a fact which makes Neal's statement that he remained ‘several years’ in prison impossible. The Essex nonconformists complained that all their best ministers were suspended and replaced by ignorant ones, while twenty-seven of the suspended Essex clergy, headed by Gifford, petitioned the privy council for the redress of their grievances (Brook, Puritans, p. 275). In 1586 Wyersdale desired to resign the living in Gifford's favour. Aylmer would not, however, permit this, and on his next visitation (1587) suspended Gifford for a time from his lectureship (Hanbury, Memorials, i. 69; Strype, Annals, iii. ii. 479; David, Annals, pp. 107, 126). Gifford went as one of the representatives of the Essex nonconformist ministers to a puritan synod held privately either at Cambridge or at Warwick, 8 Sept. 1587 (Strype, Annals, iii. i. 691, ii. 477–8). He had also subscribed to the ‘Book of Discipline,’ and in 1589 he attended a synod held at St. John's College, Cambridge, to discuss corrections of the book (Bancroft, p. 89). Gifford next attacked the Brownists, the heads of which, Henry Barrow [q. v.] and John Greenwood (d. 1593) [q. v.], had been since 1586 in prison, in ‘A Short Treatise against the Donatists of England, whom we call Brownists …,’ London, 1590, 4to. Greenwood replied to this from the Fleet, whereupon Gifford answered with ‘A Plain Declaration that our Brownists be full Donatists … Also a reply to Master Greenwood touching read prayer, wherein his gross ignorance is detected, which, labouring to purge himself from former absurdities, doth plunge himself deeper into his mire.’ Dedicated to Sir William Cecil, London, 1590. Gifford then published ‘A Short Reply unto the last printed books of H. Barrow and J. Greenwood … wherein is laid open the gross ignorance and foul errors …,’ London, 1591, 4to, with a preface disavowing personal motives. Barrow replied in his ‘Plain Refutation.’ Gifford took no further part in theological controversy. He preached in 1591 at St. Paul's Cross. In 1597 he was made one of a presbytery elected in Essex. He died in 1620 at a good old age at Maldon, continuing to preach to the last. Besides the above he published: 1. ‘Four Sermons preached at Maldon, 1584, “penned from his mouth, and corrected and given to the Countess of Sussex as a New Year's Gift,”’ London. 2. ‘A Discourse of the Subtle Practises of Devils by Witches and Sorcerors,’ London, 1587, 4to. 3. ‘Eight Sermons preached at Maldon, 1589.’ 4. A ‘Dialogue concerning Witches and Witchcrafts,’ London, 1593 and 1603, 4to (reprinted by the Percy Society). 5. A ‘Treatise of True Fortitude,’ London, 1594, 8vo. 6. ‘Commentary or Sermons upon the whole Book of Revelations,’ London, 1596, 4to. 7. ‘Four Sermons upon several parts of Scripture,’ London, 1598, 8vo. 8. ‘Exposition on the Canticles,’ London, 1612, 8vo. 9. ‘Fifteen Sermons on the Song of Solomon,’ London, 1620, 8vo.

Probably John Gifford, D.D., who proceeded B.A. from Christ Church, Oxford, 1613, and M.A. 1616, and afterwards D.D., was George Gifford's son. He was rector of St. Michael Bassishaw from 1636 till 1642, when the parliament expelled him on account of his royalist tendencies (Walker, Sufferings, p. 170). A John Gifford, D.D. of Cambridge, wrote ‘Dissertatio de ratione alendi Ministros evangelicos in statu Ecclesiæ stabilito,’ Hamburg, 1619, 8vo.

[Strype's Life of Aylmer, ed. 1831, p. 73; Strype's Whitgift, ii. 190; Hanbury's Memorials, i. 49–69.]

E. T. B.