Vaux, Laurence (DNB00)

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VAUX, LAURENCE (1519–1585), Roman catholic divine, was born at Blackrod in the parish of Bolton-le-Moors, Lancashire, in 1519. His family seems to have been connected with that of Lord Vaux of Harrowden. He passed, probably from the Manchester grammar school, to Queen's College, Oxford, and thence to Corpus Christi, and was ordained priest by the bishop of Chester on 24 Sept. 1542 in the collegiate church of Manchester. When the college was dissolved in the first year of Edward VI, Vaux was one of the fellows, and in receipt of a pension of 8l. 13s. 4d. In the following year he was described as one of the curates of the parish of Manchester, having for his salary 12l. 19s. 6d., ‘and no other lyvynge.’ After the accession of Mary, the college was refounded (July 1557) and Vaux reinstated as fellow; and in 1558 he succeeded Collier as warden, having previously (1556) been admitted to the reading of the sentences at Oxford and having taken the degree of B.D. In Mary's reign the college was used as a prison for protestant confessors, but Vaux was never accused of cruelty, and he is described by the presbyterian Hollingworth as ‘well beloved and highly honoured .... and in his way devout and conscientious.’

On the passing of the act of uniformity in 1559, Vaux acted with unusual promptitude and boldness. When the ecclesiastical commissioners visited the college they found that the warden had already fled, taking with him the college muniments. He had also removed the college plate and vestments. It appears that for a short time he retired to Ireland, where he fell among thieves and lost some church goods, perhaps a small portion of the college property. In 1561 he was reported to be ‘secretly lurking’ in Lancashire (Cal. State Papers, Dom. Addenda, 1545–65, p. 522), and he received orders from the royal commissioners to confine himself to the county of Worcester. Meantime he supported himself by teaching, and acted as tutor to Laurence Chaderton [q. v.], but before long slipped abroad to Louvain, where he found his former bishop, Cuthbert Scott [q. v.], who died there on 3 Oct. 1564 (Molanus, Hist. Lov. ii. 785), and other English scholars, who for the most part occupied two houses, which they named ‘Oxford’ and ‘Cambridge’ (Maziere Brady, Episc. Success. iii. 56). Vaux himself kept a small school for the children of the lay exiles. In 1566 he went to Rome and had private audience of Pius V, who explained to him the commission he had given in consistory to two of the Louvain exiles, Dr. Sanders and Dr. Harding, as apostolic delegates to give certain faculties to priests in England, and to make known the papal decision that under no circumstances was it lawful for catholics to attend the Anglican church service. Vaux, after communicating with the two doctors, on their persuasion went himself into England, carrying with him as his credentials from Dr. Sanders a pastoral letter which made some stir. Vaux also circulated among his friends in Lancashire a letter in which he strongly enforced the prohibition against frequenting the protestant church. The results of his mission were soon visible. The ‘secret and disorderly practices in Lancashire by means of seditious persons’ attracted the attention of the government. The bishop was reprimanded for remissness and ordered to visit his diocese. The sheriff received a writ for the apprehension of Vaux and a few clerical assistants, while several country gentlemen got into trouble for harbouring them.

Vaux made his way back in safety to Louvain probably early in 1567, and there printed at the press of John Fowler [q. v.] his famous little catechism, written for the benefit of his young pupils (cf. Rogers, Works, Parker Soc. pp. 62, 110–14, 252, 258–60, 287–9, 299). It bore the imprimatur of the parish priest of St. Peter, Louvain, dated 20 April 1567. Five years later, in his fifty-third year, as he himself said, he entered as a novice the order of canons regular of St. Augustine in their monastery of St. Martin (10 Aug. 1572), and there made his profession on 3 May of the following year. He previously executed certain legal documents providing for the safety of the Manchester church plate and property, ‘until such time as the college should be restored to the catholic faith.’ The charters and muniments, with certain vessels and furniture enumerated by him, he had left in Lancashire with his friend Edward Standish of Standish. Some other rich vestments and vessels he deposited in the sacristy of his monastery.

In 1580 Vaux, who had meanwhile been elected sub-prior, left Louvain on the command of the pope for Rheims, where he was to join or follow the jesuits, Parsons and Campion, and other priests in their missionary attack upon England. Vaux passed in safety through the searchers at Dover, but was betrayed and captured at Rochester, put through a severe examination by the bishop of London, and committed to the gatehouse, Westminster. In a letter written to the prior of St. Martin's in the following October Vaux gives a graphic account of his soft bed, tidy room, excellent fare, and goodly company, adding, ‘So I remain in prison, but well content with my state.’ In another letter, addressed three years later to an old friend and former fellow of Manchester, then confined in Chester Castle, Vaux still writes cheerfully. He was paying indeed 16l. a year for his room, but says, ‘As yet I have found no lack; my friends here be many and of much worship, especially since my catechism [i.e. the third edition] came forth in print.’ It was selling well, and three hundred copies were distributed in the north.

But in 1584 Vaux was transferred to the Clink in Southwark. The irritation against catholics at this time found vent in the banishment of some seventy priests and increased rigour against others. Vaux, obnoxious on account of his catechism, was once more examined by the bishop of London and the commissioners, and was, according to Strype, put ‘in danger of death.’ Burghley interceded for the old man, and probably saved him from the gallows. He died in the course of 1585. ‘Obiit in vinculis martyr,’ writes Bridgewater in 1588; and the rumour reached Louvain that his death was caused by starvation or the hardships of his prison, but of this there is not sufficient evidence.

Vaux's only publication was ‘A Catechism of Christian Doctrine, necessary for Children and Ignorant People,’ Louvain, 1567; Antwerp, 1574. Two editions appeared during the author's imprisonment in 1583, one at Liège, and the other perhaps from some secret press in England. A reprint, edited by the present writer, was issued by the Chetham Society in 1885.

[Introduction to the reprint of the catechism for the Chetham Society, 1885; early notices in Pits, Dodd, Challoner, and Wood are scanty and inaccurate. See also Paquot's Hist. Littéraire des Pays-Bas, 1770; Gibson's Lydiate Hall, pp. 183 seq.; Raines's Lives of the Wardens and Bailey's Church Goods (Chetham Soc.). The testamentary and other documents of Vaux formerly at Louvain, now in the Chetham Library, Manchester, were first printed by Mr. R. Simpson in the Rambler, December 1857.]

T. G. L.