Hacket, William (DNB00)

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HACKET, WILLIAM (d. 1591), fanatic, born at Oundle, Northamptonshire, was a serving-man in the households successively of one Hussey, of Sir Thomas Tresham, and of Sir Charles Morrison, all Northamptonshire gentry. He married the widow of a well-to-do farmer named Moreton, and took up the business of a maltster. Riotous living gained for him the reputation of an atheist. In a fit of passion it is said that he quarrelled with a schoolmaster named Freckingham in an alehouse at Oundle, bit off Freckingham's nose, and 'after (as some haue reported) did in a most spitefull and diuelish outrage eate it up.' Suddenly he abandoned his dissolute courses and gave out that he was 'converted to religion and knowledge of the trueth.' An acquaintance at Oundle, Giles Wigginton, became his disciple. Travelling to York, Hacket announced that he was sent thither by God to prepare the way for the Messiah, but he was 'well whipped and banished the city.' At Leicester he was similarly treated, and when he began to preach in Northamptonshire villages, he attacked the queen and her chief councillors so warmly that he was arrested and sent to Northampton gaol. He was released, after many weeks' imprisonment, on giving a bond to come up for judgment when called upon. About Easter 1591 he came to London at Wigginton's suggestion, and lodged at the sign of the Castle without Smithfield. Wigginton introduced him to Edmund Coppinger [q. v.], who held a small post in the royal household, and who declared that he had been moved by God to warn the queen to reform herself, her family, commonwealth, and church. Coppinger soon convinced himself and a friend, Henry Arthington, a Yorkshire gentleman, that Hacket had an 'extraordinary calling,' and had in fact come from heaven, after anointment by the Holy Ghost, to inaugurate a new era on earth. Hacket boasted that he was immortal. Coppinger and Arthington proved credulous disciples. They talked of dethroning the queen and of setting Hacket in her place; of abolishing episcopacy, and of establishing in every congregation an 'eldership ' or consistory of doctor, pastor, and lay elders. Lord-chancellor Hatton and other ministers of state were to be removed, and their offices filled by the conspirators' friends, among whom were mentioned Secretary Davison and other persons of note, reputed to be of puritan predilections. They scattered letters about London foretelling the coming changes. Hacket defaced the queen's arms which were set up in his lodgings in Knightrider Street, and mutilated a picture of her with a bodkin. On 19 July 1591 Hacket and his friends went from 'Walker's house, near Broken wharf,' to Cheapside, shouting out that Hacket was Christ, and warning the people to repent. From a cart in Cheapside they proclaimed their absurd pretensions in detail. Crowds collected, and the scene grew so tumultuous that the fanatics had to take refuge in the Mermaid tavern. But they reached Walker's house in safety. The privy council, on hearing of their conduct, directed their arrest, and they were thrown into Bridewell. Hacket was brought to trial on 26 July at the Sessions House near Newgate. To the indictment that he had declared that the queen was not queen of England he pleaded guilty; but to the second indictment, that he had defaced the queen's picture, he pleaded not guilty. His behaviour at and after the trial suggests that he was by that time quite mad. He was condemned to death, and insulted the clergyman appointed to attend him to the scaffold. He was executed near the Cross in Cheapside on 28 July, uttering 'execrable blasphemy' to the last. He was afterwards disembowelled and quartered. Coppinger wilfully starved himself to death in Bridewell, and Arthington, after a penitent apology, was released in the following year. 'A Life, Arraignment, Judgement, and Execution of William Hacket' was licensed for publication to Robert Bourne on 28 July 1591 (Notes and Queries, 3rd ser. i. 105). No copy seems extant.

[A full account of Hacket's action was officially prepared by Richard Cosin (q. v.), and issued under the title 'Conspiracie for Pretended Reformation, viz. Presbyteriall Discipline,' London, 1592. Cosin prints several letters said to have passed between Hacket, Coppinger, and other friends. Henry Arthington also issued a history of the affair, under the title 'The Seduction of Arthington by Hacket,' London, 1592, dedicated to the privy council, with an appeal for the author's release from prison. See Stow's vivid account of the riot in Cheapside in his Chronicle, 1632, f. 761; Strype's Annals, iv. 97-100; Fuller's Church Hist. ed. Brewer, pp. 159-63 ; Cal. State Papers, Dom. 1591-4, pp. 75-6.]

S. L. L.