Gilpin, Bernard (DNB00)

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GILPIN, BERNARD (1517–1583), the ‘Apostle of the North,’ was born at Kentmere, Westmoreland, in 1517. He came, both by father and mother, of ‘ancient and honourable’ families. His mother was daughter of William Laton of Delamain, Cumberland. Having received the rudiments of education at a grammar school in the north, Gilpin was sent to Queen's College, Oxford, at the age of sixteen. At Oxford he was much attracted to the works of Erasmus, and received help in acquiring Greek and Hebrew from Mr. Neale, a fellow of New College, and afterwards the author of the famous Nag's-head fable. Gilpin proceeded B.A. in 1539–40, and M.A. in 1541–2, and was about the same time elected fellow of his college and admitted into holy orders by the Bishop of Oxford. He took his B.D. degree in 1549. His scrupulous conscience was much troubled by an oath required of him at his ordination (thought necessary on account of the recent breach with Rome), that he held all such ordinations, past or future, to be valid. Cardinal Wolsey's foundation of Christ Church had now been completed by the king, and the most promising scholars were sought for to be admitted as students. Among these Gilpin was one of the first elected. As yet he had no inclination towards the reformed opinions in religion, and in fact undertook to hold a public disputation with John Hooper in defence of the old doctrinal views. In this he obtained considerable reputation, insomuch that in the next reign, when Peter Martyr was established as divinity professor at Oxford, Gilpin was put forward to dispute with him. It was now that, searching diligently into the records of the primitive church, Gilpin began to have doubts as to the truth of the modern Roman doctrines. He applied for help to Tunstall, bishop of Durham, who was his mother's uncle, and learnt from him the comparatively modern origin of the doctrine of transubstantiation and the equivocal character of some of the papal ordinances. Afterwards he conferred with Dr. Redman, another relative, who defended the Book of Common Prayer, then newly issued. Although influenced by these arguments and a diligent search of the scriptures and fathers, Gilpin still had difficulties. At this juncture he was induced to accept the vicarage of Norton, in the diocese of Durham; but before taking possession of it he was called upon to preach before Edward VI at Greenwich (1552). In this sermon Gilpin inveighs against the abuses of the time in the scandalous robbery of church property and incomes. ‘A thousand pulpits in England are covered with dust,’ he says. He does not treat much of doctrine. Bishop Tunstall, who no doubt saw in which direction Gilpin's mind was moving, now advised him to travel abroad. But first Gilpin insisted, much against the bishop's will, on resigning his benefice. He then proceeded abroad, where he remained some years, first at Louvain and afterwards at Paris. At Paris he lived in the house of Vascosanus, the printer, and occupied himself with carrying through the press a work of Tunstall on the Eucharist. Returning into England in the latter years of Queen Mary, Gilpin was in 1556 promoted by Tunstall to the rectory of Easington and the archdeaconry of Durham. The persecution prevalent in England under Mary, though the mild temper of Tunstall would not allow it to be felt in the diocese of Durham, seems to have decided Gilpin to set forth reforming views with greater distinctness and earnestness. He also reproved vigorously the faults of the clergy. Conse- quently he was soon denounced to the bishop as a heretic, but Tunstall replied to his accusers: ‘Father's soul! let him alone; he hath more learning than you all.’ The bishop even conferred on Gilpin the important rectory of Houghton-le-Spring, ‘being a very large parish, containing fourteen villages, with very large possessions’ (Carleton). His house was like a bishop's palace, and far superior to many palaces, and his position that of a clerical magnate. Gilpin now entered upon that extended sphere of work and influence which gained for him the title of the ‘Apostle of the North.’ Taking compassion on the miserably neglected state of parts of Northumberland and Yorkshire, he used every winter to make a progress through Riddesdale and Tyndale and some other districts, where scarcely any preachers were to be found, preaching and distributing alms. The people almost worshipped him, and numerous anecdotes are preserved by his biographers of the extraordinary influence which he had over them. At Houghton Gilpin's charities were on the most extensive scale. He would sometimes strip his cloak off and give it to an ill-clad beggar. Riding with his servants in the country on one occasion, he saw a poor husbandman's horse fall down dead in the plough. Immediately Gilpin told one of his servants to unsaddle his horse and give it to the poor man. His habit was on Sundays to feast all his parishioners, in three divisions, according to their ranks, at his table. But his most valuable work was the foundation, on a scale of great munificence, of a grammar school. From this school many scholars were sent to the universities. Some were supported there at Gilpin's cost. A large number of the boys attending the school were boarded and lodged in Gilpin's house free of all charge. Gilpin's zeal and munificence soon made for him a great and dangerous reputation. His enemies, unable to persuade Tunstall to proceed against him, laid thirty-two articles of accusation before Bonner, bishop of London. The bishop, acting probably under the queen's commission, sent a pursuivant to bring him to London. On the way Gilpin accidentally broke his leg, which probably saved his life, as before he was able to travel Queen Mary died. At the death of Oglethorpe, bishop of Carlisle (1559), Gilpin was much pressed to accept the bishopric. But he steadily refused, his reason being that, having so many friends and kindred in the diocese who were not in accord with him in opinions, he would be much hampered in his work. In the following year the provostship of Queen's College, Oxford, was offered to him. This he also declined. When, after the passing of Queen Elizabeth's Injunctions, commissioners went through the country to enforce conformity, Gilpin had considerable difficulty in signing the required declaration. Sandys, bishop of Worcester, Gilpin's cousin, was one of the commissioners, and he insisted on Gilpin preaching before them at Auckland against the supremacy of the pope. This he consented to do; but a sermon preached the day before by Dr. Sandys on the Eucharist so shocked him that he had the greatest difficulty to bring himself to perform his task. On the next day, when the subscription was to be made, Gilpin endeavoured to avoid it, but was told that if he refused all the clergy in the north would follow his example. This induced him at last to consent, though he does not appear to have been fully satisfied with the settlement of the church of England. In June 1560 Gilpin entertained at Houghton Sir William Cecil and Dr. Wotton, sent as ambassadors to Scotland. During the northern rebellion (1569) his house and barns were plundered by the rebels; but upon its repression Gilpin was very active in endeavouring to save the lives of the misguided people implicated. Great attempts were now made by the puritan party to obtain the countenance and support of Gilpin for their ‘discipline.’ He was intimate with Bishop Pilkington, the successor of Tunstall at Durham, who was much inclined to favour the puritans, and with Thomas Lever, another puritan leader. But his great reverence for the fathers and for primitive antiquity preserved him from accepting these modern views. His laborious ministrations, his boundless charities, and, above all, his unsparing and outspoken denunciation of the abuses then prevalent, made Gilpin many enemies. Among these was Richard Barnes [q. v.], who succeeded Pilkington as bishop of Durham. Barnes was not congenial to Gilpin, and his brother, who acted as chancellor, was notorious for gross abuses. The bishop insisted, at a visitation at Chester-le-Street, that Gilpin should preach. Gilpin was not prepared with a sermon, but, being urged by the bishop, delivered in the plainest and most forcible language a strong censure of the proceedings of the bishop and chancellor. The bishop accompanied Gilpin to his house, and on entering it seized his hand, exclaiming: ‘Father Gilpin, I acknowledge you are fitter to be bishop of Durham than myself parson of this church of yours. I ask forgiveness for errors past; forgive me, father. I know you have hatched up some chickens that now seek to pick out your eyes; but so long as I shall live bishop of Durham be secure, no man shall injure you’ (Carleton). Gilpin's health had begun to fail, when he was knocked down by an ox in the market-place at Durham, and received injuries from which he never quite recovered. He died 4 March 1583, in the sixty-sixth year of his age. An affectionate memoir of this good man has been written by George Carleton [q. v.], bishop of Chichester, who was one of the scholars at Gilpin's school at Houghton, and also by William Gilpin [q. v.], a descendant of the family. The only printed work of his which remains is the sermon preached before Edward VI in 1552. This sermon was on the text Luke ii. 41–9, printed with Carleton's memoir at London in the edition of 1636, also printed in Gilpin's ‘Life.’

[Life of Bernard Gilpin, by George Carleton, Bishop of Chichester, in Latin, London, 1628, in English, London 1629; Life of Bernard Gilpin, by W. Gilpin, 1753, reissued in Gilpin's Lives of Reformers, vol. ii. London, 1809; Strype's Life and Acts of Edm. Grindal, London, 1710, fol.; Wood's Fasti (Bliss), i. 129.]

G. G. P.