Johnson, Robert (1540-1625) (DNB00)

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JOHNSON, ROBERT (1540–1625), archdeacon of Leicester, born at Stamford in 1540, was third and younger son of Maurice Johnson, of All Saints parish, and Jane, his wife, daughter of Henry Lacey of Stamford, a family which claimed descent from the De Laceys, earls of Lincoln. Maurice Johnson was a Roman catholic, and in 1523 represented the borough in parliament along with David Cecil, the grandfather of Lord Burghley. He died in 1551, leaving six children. Robert was entrusted to the care of an uncle, one Robert Smith, who sent him to be educated at the grammar school at Peterborough. On 18 March 1557–8 Johnson matriculated as a sizar at Clare Hall, Cambridge. Thence he migrated, while still an undergraduate, to Trinity College, where he was admitted a junior fellow, along with seventeen others, 1 Oct. 1563, and subsequently filled the office of steward. He commenced M.A. in 1564, and on 20 Feb. 1565 was incorporated at Oxford. According to his son's account, he subsequently, ‘by licence under Queen Elizabeth's own hand,’ travelled in France, and ‘studied for some time in Paris.’ Prior to 1571 he became chaplain to Sir Nicholas Bacon, the lord keeper, and in that year he proceeded to the degree of B.D. at Cambridge. He was canon of Peterborough in 1570, and was installed canon of Norwich 26 May in the same year, during which he also obtained a prebend at Rochester, and his name disappeared from the bursar's books at Trinity College. According to Strype, besides discharging the duties of chaplain at Gorhambury, he officiated as a minister at St. Albans. In 1571 his scruples with respect to the prayer-book and the ritual of the church led to his being summoned to Lambeth, where the Three Articles were tendered for his acceptance. On his refusal to sign them he was suspended (4 July) from his ministerial functions. Within a few weeks, however, he submitted (cf. Strype, Life of Parker, ii. 70–1). On 30 July 1572 he was installed canon of Windsor, a preferment which he continued to hold until his death. Archbishop Parker, who does not seem to have forgiven his puritanic tendencies, wrote to Burghley of him as ‘cocking abroad with his four several prebends … both against statute and his oath.’

On 16 April 1574 he was instituted rector of North Luffenham, Rutland, and in the following year resigned his prebend at Peterborough. His son describes him as habitually resident, a painful preacher, and a keeper of good hospitality. His ample means were the result partly of his pluralities and partly of the property acquired by his first two marriages, and he now determined to devote a portion of his wealth to the promotion of education in Rutland. ‘Finding none,’ says Fuller, ‘he left as many free schools in Rutland as there were market towns therein, one at Oakham, another at Uppingham, well faced with buildings and lined with endowments.’ The schools were founded in 1584, the statutes requiring that the master should in each case be an ‘honest and discreet man, master of arts, and diligent in his place, painful in the educating of children in good learning and religion, such as can make a Greek and Latin verse.’ In each town the ancient ‘hospital’ was at the same time restored and re-endowed; and in 1587, at Johnson's petition, a charter was granted by Elizabeth, appointing ‘governors of the goods, possessions, and revenues of the Free Grammar Schools of Robert Johnson, clerk.’ On 27 June 1591 Johnson was installed archdeacon of Leicester, and about the same time was elected an honorary fellow of Jesus College, Oxford. He was buried at Luffenham, 24 July 1625, in the chancel of his church, where a brass plate, now in the chancel wall, bears a lengthy inscription recording his virtues and his charities. He was a benefactor to Clare, St. John's, Emmanuel, and Sidney Sussex Colleges, at each of which he founded five divinity scholarships. His will and the statutes for his schools, given in 1625, are printed in the account of his life by Mr. C. R. Bingham.

Johnson was three times married. His first wife, who died within a year of their marriage, was Susannah Davers, sister of Jeremy Davers, a fellow of Clare Hall. His second wife was Mary Herd, only sister of Richard Herd, steward to Sir Francis Walsingham, and mother of Abraham Johnson, who wrote a life of his father. In 1599 he married his third wife, a widow named Margaret Wheeler, sister to Dr. Lilley. The son Abraham married as his second wife a daughter of Laurence Chaderton, the first master of Emmanuel College, and had by her a numerous family. The archdeacon lived to see three grandsons graduate at that college.

[Strype's Life of Archbishop Parker; Fuller's Worthies; Le Neve's Fasti, iii. 400, ii. 499; Wood's Fasti, ed. Bliss, p. 200; Wright's Hist. of Rutland; Nichols's Literary Anecdotes, vi. pt. i.; Add. MS. 31043, f. 16; Bingham's Our Founder: some Account of Archdeacon Johnson, &c., 1884, in which some use has been made of the manuscript Life by Abraham Johnson. According to Cooper's Athenæ Cantabr. i. 323, Robert Johnson, the archdeacon of Leicester, was not Sir Nicholas Bacon's chaplain; the latter, it is assumed, was Robert Johnson, a puritan, who died in the Gatehouse in 1574. This supposition, however, directly contravenes Abraham Johnson's statement that his father was the lord keeper's chaplain, a statement which appears to have been unknown to Messrs. Cooper.]

J. B. M.