Willet, Andrew (DNB00)
|←Willes, Richard||Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 61
WILLET, ANDREW (1562-1621), controversial divine, born at Ely in 1562, was son of Thomas Willet (1511?-1598), who began his career as a public notary, and officiated as such at the consecration of Archbishop Parker. Late in life he took holy orders, becoming rector of Barley, Hertfordshire, fourteen miles from Cambridge. He was also admitted to the fifth prebendal stall of Ely in 1560 by his patron, Bishop Richard Coxe, with whom he had been associated as sub-almoner to Edward VI.
Andrew had one brother and four sisters. After attending the collegiate school at Ely, he entered Cambridge University at the age of fifteen (20 June 1577); he first went to Peterhouse, the master of which was Dr. Andrew Perne [q. v.], his godfather, but in the same year removed to Christ's College. He was quickly elected a scholar, graduated B.A. in 1580, was elected to a fellowship at Christmas 1583 (when only twenty-one), proceeded M.A. in 1584, and in the same year was incorporated a member of the university of Oxford. He continued to pursue his studies with such zeal and assiduity that 'in a short time he had not only gained a good measure of knowledge in the learned tongues, but likewise in the arts and all necessary literature.' Among the other fellows of Christ's were Cuthbert Bainbridge, William Perkins, Francis Johnson, and George Downham [q. v.], afterwards bishop of Derry. All but the last of these were puritans, and it is significant that Willet's chosen friend was George Downham.
His father had been presented by Bishop Cox, the patron, to the living of Barley in north-east Hertfordshire, and only fourteen miles from Cambridge, and it was here that Willet spent his vacations at his father's rectory of Barley, often accompanied by Downham. He took holy orders in 1585, and was admitted on 22 July 1587, on the presentation of the queen, to the prebendal stall at Ely, which his father had resigned in his favour.
The year following Willet quitted the university, and at Michaelmas (1588), on his marriage with Jacobine, a daughter of his father's friend Dr. Goad, provost of King's, relinquished his fellowship. He quickly earned fame as a preacher of power, especially in the handling of controversies with the papists. He was selected 'to read the lecture for three years together' in the cathedral church of Ely, and for one year in St. Paul's, London, 'with singular approbation of a most frequent auditory.' In the same year he was presented to the rectory of Childerly, a small rural parish in Cambridgeshire, now depopulated. This living he held till 1594. He graduated B.D. in 1591, and D.D. in 1601. On the latter occasion he was called upon (with his friend Dr. George Downham and others) to 'answer the Divinity Act in the commencement house.'
He was admitted in 1597 to the rectory of Gransden Parva in Huntingdonshire, but almost immediately removed, by exchange to Barley, his father having died in April 1598 in his eighty-eighth year. He was instituted on 29 Jan. 1599. He spent by far the greater part of his ministerial life among his parishioners at Barley, being rector for twenty-three years. Here it was that he issued almost the whole of his long list of books and pamphlets, which, with nine that still remained unprinted at his death, numbered forty-two. He made it his practice to produce some new biblical commentary or theological work every half-year. He read with avidity and remarkable digestion almost everything bearing upon the subjects of which he wrote church councils, fathers, ecclesiastical history, civil and canon law, the leading schoolmen, and chief religious writings of his own time, whether on the Roman or protestant side, at home or on the continent. His contemporaries spoke of him as 'walking library,' as one that 'must write while he sleeps, it being impossible he should do so much waking.' The secret of his literary success lay in the method and regularity with which he ordered his daily life. He spent eight hours a day in his study. Bishop Hall of Exeter (who knew him well) eulogised Willet as 'stupor mundi clerus Britannicus' (see Hall, Noah's Dove). Fuller modelled 'the Controversial Divine' of his 'Holy State' upon him; and in his 'Church History' notes him as having been 'a man of no little judgment and greater industry, not unhappy in controversies, but more happy in comments.' But Willet was very far from being a recluse. He was chaplain-in-ordinary and tutor to Prince Henry, as well as a frequent preacher before the court. He was much admired by King James, yet able to adapt himself to his rural parishioners. A good specimen of Willet's village preaching is preserved in his 'Thesaurus Ecclesiæ' (an exposition of St. John xvii.), which contains the substance of expository afternoon lectures addressed to his parishioners at Barley.
Willet's son-in-law has drawn an interesting picture of his life at Barley with his wife and family in the old timber rectory-house. 'He came down at the hour of prayer [6 a.m. ?], taking his family with him to the church; there service was publically read . . . .' From the church he returned to his studies till near dinner-time,' when his manner was to recreate himself awhile, either playing upon a little organ, singing to it, or; else sporting with his young children.' He frequently exercised himself by cutting down timber or chopping wood. He and his wife kept open house, and 'at his table he was always pleasant and delightful to his com- pany.' After dinner he took his walks abroad in his parish, or attended to the husbandry of his garden or his glebe, which consisted of sixty-one acres, more or less, scattered intermixedly among the common fields. Towards evening he returned to his studies till supper-time. Willet persuaded Dr. Perne to leave by will an annual sum to the poor scholars of the free school founded in the village of Barley by Archbishop Warham when rector; and it is to his influence with his friend Thomas Sutton [q. v.] that we owe that 'masterpiece of protestant English charity,' Charterhouse.
It was during his residence at Barley that Willet got into trouble about the Spanish match, to which he was strongly opposed. Under care of Sir John Higham of Bury St. Edmunds he sent letters and arguments to the justices of Norfolk and Suffolk, bespeaking liberal support for the king from parliament, at the same time urging them to protest against the marriage (State Papers, Dom. James I, xciv. 79). Willet himself presented a copy of his arguments to the king, and, thereby incurring his high displeasure, was committed to prison under the custody of Dr. White (ib. Dom. 14 Feb. 1618). He appears to have been released after a month's imprisonment.
Willet was always a welcome guest at the houses of his friends and neighbours, among whom he reckoned Sir George Gill, Sir Arthur Cappel (afterwards Lord Capel), Sir Roland Lytton, Sir Robert Chester (of Royston). His own comment on his failure to obtain high office in the church is said to have been 'that some enjoy promotions, while others merit them.' Towards the close of his life he was admitted (19 Jan. 1613) to the rectory of Reed, a parish adjoining that of Barley; but he only held it something over two years, resigning in favour of his eldest son, Andrew, who was admitted on 10 Nov. 1615. The year before his death he was presented to the rectory of the small parish of Chishill Parva, across the border in Essex (now civilly joined to Cambridge).
Willet's death was the result of an accident. On his return home from London his horse threw him near Hoddesdon. His leg was broken and was set so badly that mortification ensued, and ten days later he died at the inn to which he had been taken (4 Dec. 1621), in his fifty-ninth year. On 8 Dec. he was buried in the chancel of Barley parish church. A fine effigy and brass were placed by his parishioners and friends over the place of burial. The effigy (which is still in good preservation) shows a priest, full-length, dressed in his doctor's robes, with square cap, ruff, and scarf, and wearing a beard. There is a portrait of Willet in the fifth folio edition of his 'Synopsis Papismi,' published in 1630. This is probably the better likeness, bearing witness to his son-in-law's description of him, that 'he was of a fair, fresh, ruddy complexion, temperate in his diet, fasting often.'
Of his eighteen children, nine sons and four daughters survived him. His widow was buried in 1637 by his side. His son, Henry Willet (d. 1670), who lost a fortune of 500l. by his loyalty to the king, was apparently ancestor of Ralph Willett or Willet [q. v.] A special license was granted to another son, Paul, in 1630, for a reprint of the ' Synopsis Papismi.' The fourth son, Thomas, is separately noticed. It has been customary to class Willet as a puritan (see Brook's Lives and Neil's Puritans), and to place him 'among nonconformists, if not in the ranks of the separatists.' An examination of his most important work, 'Synopsis Papismi,' as well as contemporary evidence, proves that Toplady was only stating a fact when he claimed that Willet 'was zealously attached to the church of England, not a grain of puritanism mingling itself with his conformity' (Historic Proof of Doctrinal Calvinism of the Church of England). He appeared as a witness against Edward Dering before the Star-chamber, when Dering was accused of having spoken publicly against the institution of godparents. He wore his ecclesiastical robes, his scarf, square cap, and conformed to the use of the surplice in the administration of divine service; said the daily office, and granted license to the sick to eat flesh during Lent. In doctrine he was Calvinistic in tendency and a strenuous opponent of the papal claims. But he was strongly opposed to all 'separatists,' whether on the Roman or free-church side. There is no question that by his writings and example he checked the spread of the puritan revolt and confirmed many doubters in their adhesion to the church of England.
Willet published his magnum opus (the 'Synopsis Papismi') in 1594, adding the 'Tetrastylon' two years later. This armoury of weapons against the papal theory at once took a foremost place in the controversial literature of the time, and rapidly passed through eight editions. It was designed as a reply to the scholarly and elaborate treatise of the Jesuit Bellarmine. He seeks to confute the latter by an appeal to 'scriptures, fathers, councils, imperial constitutions, pontifical decrees, their own writers and our martyrs, and the consent of all Christian churches in the world.' He affirms that the church of England approves the first four general councils, 'whereunto also may be added the fifth;' and he maintains the position of Jewel as regards the necessity of the episcopal order. He argues strenuously against the mass, and inveighs against the mediaeval practice of regarding the mass as a vicarious and solitary sacrifice, at each celebration, of the one atoning death, but always holds 'that Christ is present with all His benefits in the sacrament, that the elements of bread and wine are not bare and naked signs of the body and blood of Christ.' He further enforces, among other points, 'confession to the minister before reception of the holy communion,' and desires a restoration of 'godly discipline in our church.' The 'Synopsis' and his next principal work, 'The Hexapla on Romans,' have retained a place in theological literature. Besides being; a theologian, Willet was one of the foremost biblical textual critics of his day. One of his earlier works, a century of 'Sacred Emblems' (printed about 1591), deserves notice, as being one of the rarest of English books (see Payne Collier, Bibliographical Account, of Rarest Books). It is referred to by Francis Meres (Palladia Tamia, 1598) in the following terms: 'As the Latins have their emblematists, Andreas, Alciatus, &c., so we have these, Geoffrey Whitney, Andrew Willet, and Thomas Combe.' Willet's emblems are in Latin, with English rendering. They enjoyed a wide circulation, and, from the marked likeness to the types and imagery to be found in 'Pilgrim's Progress,' appear to have been diligently read by Bunyan.
The lesser literary productions of Willet were mainly passing contributions to the questions of the hour. Several of his works Lave been translated into Dutch.
The following full and corrected list of his works is taken from that (itself incomplete) given by Dr. Peter Smith and prefixed to the 'Hexapla in Levit.,' from another in Cole's manuscripts in the British Museum, and other shorter lists and first editions. Only twenty of Willet's works are in the British Museum: In Latin : 1. 'De animæ natura et viribus questiones quædam; partim ex Aristotelis scriptis decerptæ, partim ex vera philosophia id est rationis thesauris depromptæ in usum Cantabrigiensium,' Cambridge, 1585, 8vo. In Latin and English: 2. 'De universali et novissima Judæorum vocatione,' Cambridge, 1590, 4to. 3. 'Sacrorum emblematum centuria una,' Cambridge [circa 1591], 4to. 4. 'De Conciliis.' 5. 'De universali gratia.' 5. 'De gratia generi humano in primo parento collata, de lapsu Adami, peccato originali', 1609. 7. 'Epithalamium.' 8. 'Funebres concionies.' 9. 'Apologiæ Serenissimi Regis defensio.' 10. 'Roberti Bellarmini de lapsu Adami, peccato originali, prædestinatione, gratiâ, et libero arbitrio libri, refutati ab Andreâ Willeto,' Leyden, 1618, 8vo.
In English: 1. 'Synopsis Papismi, or a General View of Papistrie,' 1594, 4to; 2nd edit, 1600, fol.; 3rd edit. 1614; 4th edit. 1630; 6th edit. 1634 (a thick folio of over 1300 pages); new edit, in 10 vols., edited by Dr. John Cumming, London, 1852. 2. 'Hexapla upon Genesis,' London, 1595, fol., 2nd edit. 1608. 3. 'Tetrastylon Papismi, or Four Principal Pillars of Papistrie;' supplement to 'Synopsis,' 1596; afterwards bound up with folio editions of the 'Synopsis.' 4. 'A Catholicon: Exposition of St. Jude,' 1602, 4to; Cambridge, 1614, fol. 5. 'A Relection, or Discourse of a False Relection' (defence of 'Synopsis' and 'Tetrastylon'), London, 1603, 8vo. 6. 'Harmonie upon 1 Samuel,' Cambridge, 1607, 4to. 7. 'Hexapla upon Exodus,' London, 1608, fol. 8. 'Hexapla upon Daniel,' 1610, fol. 9. 'Hexapla upon Romans,' Cambridge, 1611. 10. 'Ecclesia Triumphans (on Coronation of James I) : Exposition of 122 Psalm,' 2nd edit. Cambridge, 1614. 11. 'Harmonie upon 1 and 2 Samuel,' Cambridge, 1614. 12. 'Thesaurus Ecclesiae: Exposition of St. John xvii.,' Cambridge, 1614. 13. 'Hexapla upon Leviticus,' London, 1631, fol. 14. 'King James his Judgment by way of Counsell, &c.; extracted from his speaches,' 1642 (collection of political pamphlets, Brit. Mus.) The following are undated: 15. 'Limbomastix: an Answer to Richard Parkes of Brazen-nose College,' 4to. 16. 'Epithalamium in English, by the author of Limbomastix.' 17. 'Lædoromastix,' 4to. 18. 'Funeral Sermons in English.' 19. 'An English Catechisme.' 20. 'An Antilogie: Catalogue of Charitable Works done within space of 60 years' (reigns of Edward, Elizabeth, and James); bound up with fifth edition of 'Synopsis.'[Life and Death of Andrew Willet, by Dr. Peter Smith (his son-in-law), vicar of Barkway, 1610-47, minister of Barley, 1647-1652, prefixed to the 5th edition of Synopsis Papismi, 1634, reproduced (wholly or in part) in Fuller's Abel Redivivus; Barksdale's Remembrancer, Registers of Parish of Barley; Deeds of Barley Bequests and Charities; Register of Christ's College, Cambridge; Strype's Annals (Oxford ed. 1828), iii. 441, 490, 645, 679; Newcourt's Repert. Eccl. i. 801); Wood's Fasti Oxon. and Athenæ Oxon.; Brit. Mus. Add. MS. 5836, f. 55; Fuller's Church History, bk. x. 36; Fuller's Worthies, i. 238, History of Cambridge; Bentham's Hist. and Antiq. of Cath. Ch. of Ely, 2nd ed. 1812, p. 254 ; Brook's Lives of Puritans, ii. 284 ; Gibbins's Ely Episcopal Records, 1891, pp. 432, 453, 458; Toplady's Historic Proofs, 1774, ii. 556-61.]