Shaxton, Nicholas (DNB00)

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SHAXTON, NICHOLAS (1485?–1556), bishop of Salisbury, born probably about 1485, was a native of the diocese of Norwich. He may have been a younger brother of one Thomas Shaxton of Batheley (or Bale) in Norfolk who, according to one pedigree (Add. MS. 5533, f. 195, Brit. Mus.), died in April 1537. Nicholas studied at Cambridge, where he graduated B.A. in 1506. Soon after he was elected a fellow of Gonville Hall, and commenced M.A. in 1510. In 1520 he was appointed a university preacher, and next year proceeded B.D. He is mentioned among those propagators of new views who used to frequent the ‘White Horse’ (Strype, Parker, p. 12). He was president of Physick's Hostel, which was attached to Gonville Hall, 1512–3.

In February 1530 he was one of the committee of divines at Cambridge to whom, at Gardiner's instigation, the question of the king's marriage with Catherine of Arragon was referred by the university, and his name was marked by Gardiner as favourable to the king's views. In May following he was one of the twelve Cambridge divines appointed to serve on a joint committee with twelve of Oxford in examining English books likely to disturb the faith of the people. But his own orthodoxy was called in question not long afterwards; and in May next year, when he was admitted inceptor in divinity, though one of the regents wrote asking Richard Nix [q. v.], bishop of Norwich, to give him a license to preach in his diocese, the bishop was not so easily satisfied. From inquiries made at Cambridge he learned that the vice-chancellor had censured two points in a sermon which Shaxton had preached ad clerum on Ash Wednesday: first, that it was wrong to assert publicly that there was no purgatory, but not damnable to think so; and, secondly, that no man could be chaste by prayers or fasting unless God made him so. He had also confessed that he had prayed at mass that the clergy might be relieved of celibacy. These points he had been persuaded to give up so as to avoid open abjuration; but the vice-chancellor had compelled him and others who proceeded that year in divinity to take a special oath to renounce the errors of Wiclif, Huss, and Luther. The bishop, however, still insisted on a formal act of abjuration, because he had purchased heretical books and conveyed them into his diocese. And when Bilney was burned shortly afterwards at Norwich, recanting at the stake heresies much the same as Shaxton's, the bishop is reported to have said, ‘Christ's mother! I fear I have burned Abel and let Cain go.’

In 1533, however, being then S.T.P., Shaxton was presented by the king to the parish church of Fuggleston (called Foulestone in the letters of presentation) in Wiltshire, and in the same year (3 Oct.) he was made treasurer of Salisbury Cathedral (Le Neve, ed. Hardy, ii. 647). His promotion was clearly due to Anne Boleyn, now queen, who appointed him her almoner; and next year Dr. Richard Sampson [q. v.], dean of the Chapel Royal, cordially conceded Cranmer's request that Shaxton should preach before the king the third Sunday in Lent, although other arrangements had already been made. On 27 April 1534 he was promoted to a canonry in St. Stephen's, Westminster, which he gave up early next year on obtaining the bishopric of Salisbury. He was elected to that see on 22 Feb. 1535, and consecrated by Cranmer and two other bishops at St. Stephen's Chapel, Westminster, on 11 April, the temporalities having been already restored to him on the 1st. He desired Cromwell to write to the canons of his cathedral to exact no oath of him for his bishopric, as he received it only from the king. A paper of this date speaks of a ‘book,’ apparently on political matters, which he had submitted to the king, and on which various judgments were passed by those to whom it was shown. On 4 June he wrote to Cromwell, cordially approving the king's letters directing the bishops to set forth his royal supremacy. On 8 July the liberties of his bishopric were restored, which were declared to have been forfeited by his predecessor, Cardinal Campeggio.

Early in 1536 Shaxton and Latimer were assessors, with Archbishop Cranmer, in examining a fanatic who said he had seen a vision of the Trinity and Our Lady, and had a message from the latter to preach that she insisted on being honoured as of old. Shortly after the same three bishops examined one Lambert (apparently the future martyr), who had said it was sin to pray to saints. His examiners were so far in sympathy with him that they all considered the practice unnecessary, but said it was not to be denounced as sin.

Shaxton owed his patroness, Anne Boleyn, at her death 200l., which became a debt to the king. Cromwell also assisted him in his promotion, and received favours in return, such as the reversion of the chantership of Shaxton's cathedral and the promise of a prebend for a friend. On Anne Boleyn's death he wrote to Cromwell, piously hoping that he would be no less diligent in setting forth God's word than when she was alive, although her conduct had unfortunately dishonoured the good cause which she had promoted. Shortly afterwards, as a member of convocation, he signed not only the ‘articles about religion’ drawn up in 1536, but also the declaration ‘touching the sacrament of holy orders,’ and the reasons why general councils should be summoned by princes, and not by the sole authority of the pope. When the Lincolnshire rebellion broke out in October, he was called on to furnish two hundred men out of his bishopric to serve the king, and he was one of the six bishops ‘of the king's late promotion’ whom the rebels complained of as subverting the faith. Nor was he much more respected in his own cathedral city, where the king's proclamations as head of the church were torn down. His own chaplain, a Scot, who had been a friar, was put in prison by the mayor and aldermen for a sermon in which he threatened to inform the king's council of such matters. Shaxton indeed had other disputes with the municipal authorities, who claimed that the city was the king's city, while he maintained that by a grant of Edward IV it was the bishop's. This was an old controversy, but complicated by the Reformation changes, which the city did not love. The mayor and aldermen wrote earnestly to Cromwell against Shaxton having a confirmation of the liberties granted to his predecessors, and ultimately imprisoned his under-bailiff Goodall, notwithstanding that Cromwell had shown him favour for his zeal against popish observances.

In 1537 he took part in the discussion among the bishops as to the number of the sacraments, opposing John Stokesley [q. v.], bishop of London, who maintained that there were seven. Along with John Capon alias Salcot [q. v.], bishop of Bangor, he gave an opinion in favour of confirmation as being a sacrament of the New Testament, though not instituted by Christ himself. He also signed ‘the bishops' book,’ entitled ‘The Institution of a Christian Man.’ In 1538 he issued injunctions to his clergy, which were printed at the time by John Byddell (Ames, Typogr. Antiq., ed. Herbert, p. 487). Like other bishops of that day, however, he exercised his episcopal functions subject to the control of Cromwell, the king's vicegerent, who, tired of the numerous complaints preferred against him, said once that Shaxton had ‘a stomach [i.e. temper] more meet for an emperor than for a bishop.’

Shaxton under-estimated the complete subservience required of him by the king and Cromwell. Writing to Cromwell in December 1537, he apologised by reason of debt for not sending the king a greater new year's gift than 20l. In 1538 he was told that the king considered him ungrateful for hesitating to grant him an advowson, on the plea that he had already given it away. To satisfy the king, he was compelled to re-demand it of the grantee, and wrote that he was ‘in an hell’ at the rebuke. Next year he was one of the bishops who opposed the six articles in parliament, till the king, as one of the lords present remarked, ‘confounded them all with God's learning.’ When the act was passed he and Latimer resigned their bishoprics. He was desired, when he gave in his resignation, to keep it secret; but it soon became known, and he wrote to ask Cromwell whether he should dress like a priest or like a bishop. Early in July he was seen in company with the archbishop of Canterbury in a priest's gown, ‘and a sarcenet tippet about his neck.’ A congé d'élire was issued for Salisbury on the 7th. Shaxton was committed to the custody of Clerk, bishop of Bath and Wells. On 9 Nov. he wrote from his confinement at Chew desiring liberty and a pension. He and Latimer seem each to have been allowed a pension of one hundred marks; but the first half-yearly payment was only made to him on 6 Dec. In the spring of 1540 he, like Latimer, had the benefit of the general pardon, but was released only with a prohibition from preaching or coming near London or either of the universities, or returning to his former diocese (Zurich Letters, i. 215, Parker Soc.). For some years he lived in obscurity, during which time the prohibition against preaching must have been relaxed, for he seems to have held a parochial charge at Hadleigh in Suffolk, whence in the spring of 1546 he was summoned to London to answer for maintaining false doctrine on the sacrament. He said when he left that he should either have to burn or to forsake the truth, and on 18 June he, with Anne Askew [q. v.] and two others, was arraigned for heresy at the Guildhall. All four were condemned to the flames; but the king sent Bishops Bonner and Heath, and his chaplains, Dr. Robinson and Dr. Redman, to confer with Shaxton and his fellow prisoner, Nicholas White, and they succeeded in persuading both of them to repudiate their heresy. On 9 July Shaxton signed a recantation in thirteen articles, which was published at the time with a prefatory epistle to Henry VIII, acknowledging the king's mercy to him in his old age. He was then sent to Anne Askew to urge her to do likewise; but Bonner had already tried in vain to persuade her, and she told Shaxton it would have been better for him that he had never been born. He was appointed to preach the sermon at her burning on 16 July. On Sunday, 1 Aug.—the day the London sheriffs were to be elected—he preached again at Paul's Cross, declaring ‘with weeping eyes’ how he fell into erroneous opinion, and urged his hearers to beware of heretical books.

In September he prevailed on Dr. John Taylor (d. 1554) [q. v.], afterwards bishop of Lincoln, who had been suspected of similar heresies, to sign the same articles as he had done. At his request the king gave him the mastership of St. Giles's Hospital at Norwich. Possibly it was in going down to Norwich that he revisited Hadleigh, and declared his recantation there also. He was taxed with insincerity; but from this time his life was at least consistent, and he expressed great grief for what he called his former errors, even during the protestant reaction under Edward VI. He was already married, but now put away his wife, giving her a pious exhortation in verse to live chaste and single. At the beginning of Edward's reign, on 6 March 1547, he was obliged to surrender to the king the Norwich hospital (Dep.-Keeper of Public Records, 8th Rep. App. i. 49). Under Mary he became suffragan to Thomas Thirlby [q.v.] , bishop of Ely. Sitting at Ely on 9 Oct. 1555, along with the bishop's chancellor, he passed sentence on two protestant martyrs, Wolsey and Pygot. Next year (1556) he was the chief of a body of divines and lawyers at Cambridge before whom, on Palm Sunday eve (28 March), another heretic, John Hullier, was examined. He made his will on 5 Aug. following, and died immediately after; the will was proved on the 9th. He desired to be buried in Gonville Hall chapel, and left to that hall his house in St. Andrew's parish, Cambridge, his books, and some moneys.

[Letters and Papers of Henry VIII, vols. iv. and onwards; Crowley's Confutation of Shaxton's Articles; Foxe's Actes and Monuments; Wriothesley's Chron., Greyfriars Chron., Narratives of the Days of the Reformation (the last three Camden Soc.); Stowe's Annals, p. 592; Cooper's Athenæ Cantabr.; Cooper's Annals of Cambridge; Collett's Cat. of Caius Coll. Library, i. 49; Nasmith's Cat. of Corpus Christi MSS. p. 495; Lansdowne MS. 979, ff. 176–7; Addit. MS. 5829, f. 63 b (Brit. Mus.); Burnet's Hist. of the Reformation; Strype's Works.]

J. G.

Dictionary of National Biography, Errata (1904), p.247
N.B.— f.e. stands for from end and l.l. for last line

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452 ii 17·19 Shaxton, Nicholas: for He became ultimately president .... sometimes called. read He was president of Physick's Hostel, which was attached to Gonville Hall, 1512-13.