Woolton, John (DNB00)

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WOOLTON or WOLTON, JOHN (1535?–1594), bishop of Exeter, born at Whalley in Lancashire about 1535 (according to Godwin he was born at Wigan), was the son of John Woolton of Wigan, by his wife Isabella, daughter of John Nowell of Bead Hall, Whalley, and sister of Alexander Nowell [q. v.] He was admitted student of Brasenose College, Oxford, on 26 Oct. 1553, when 'aged 18 or thereabouts,' and supplicated for the degree of B.A. on 26 April 1555, Soon afterwards he repaired with Nowell, his uncle, to Germany, and remained abroad until the accession of Queen Elizabeth, The bishop of London ordained him as deacon on 25 April 1560, when he gave his birthplace as Whalley, and he proceeded priest on 4 June 1560 (Strype, Life of Grindal, pp. 58-9).

Woolton found warm patrons in William Alley [q. v.], bishop of Exeter, and in Francis Russell, second earl of Bedford [q. v.] He was appointed to the rectory of Sampford Peverell (16 Aug. 1561), to the rectory of Whimple, the vicarage of Braunton (4 May 1570), and to the rectory of Kenn (15 Oct. 1573), all in Devonshire. A canonry at Exeter was conferred upon him in March 1565. At Exeter he 'read a divinity lecture twice a week and preached twice every lord's day,' and during the plague which raged in that city during the summer of 1570 he was exemplary in his attendance on the sick.

By the new charter, dated 28 July 1578, Woolton, probably through his uncle's influence, was constituted the first warden of the collegiate church of Manchester. On 11 Oct. in that year Bridget, wife of Francis, earl of Bedford, recommended him to Lord Burghley as a fitting person to fill the vacant bishopric of Exeter. He was duly appointed to the see, supplicated for the degrees of B.D. and D.D. at Oxford on 26 May 1579, and was consecrated in the archiepiscopal chapel at Croydon on 2 Aug. 1579. As the bishopric had become of small value, Woolton was allowed to hold with it the place of 'arch-priest' at Haccombe in Devonshire (20 Oct. 1581) and the rectory of Lezant in Cornwall (1584).

Woolton remodelled the statutes at Exeter Cathedral. In 1581 he deprived Anthony Randal, parson of Lydford, a follower ' of the Family of Love,' and made others who were imbued with those doctrines recant in the cathedral. Many strong accusations, some amounting to fraudulent misgovernment, were made against his rule of the diocese to the archbishop of Canterbury in 1585, but his answers to the charges were satisfactory, although he was obliged to admit his comparative poverty, and to confess that he had placed his son 'for his lewdness in a common jayle with irons upon him.' His death took place at the palace, Exeter, on 13 March 1593-4, and he was buried in the cathedral on the south side of the choir on 20 March. The bishop was married and had a large family. His eldest son, John Woolton, M.A., a fellow of All Souls' College, Oxford, placed a monumental inscription to his father's memory in the south lower of the cathedral; he retired from practice at Exeter to the estate of Pilland in the parish of Pilton, North Devon, which his father had purchased. Francis Godwin [q. v.], bishop successively of Llandaff and Hereford, married Bishop Woolton's daughter. Woolton was author of the following theological treatises: 1. 'An Armour of Proofs,' 1576. 2. 'A Treatise of the Immortalitie of the Soule,' 1578; the dedication to 'Lady Bryget, Countesse of Bedforde,' mentions her husband's kindnesses to him. 3. 'The Christian Manuell,' 1576; reprinted by the Parker Society, 1851. 4. 'The Castell of Christians and Fortresse of the Faithfull,' n.d. [1577]: the dedication to Walsingham is dated 'the last day of May 1577.' 5. 'A new Anatomie of the whole Man,' 1576. 6. 'Of the Conscience: a Discourse,' 1570. 7. 'David's Chain;' said to have been dedicated to the Earl of Bedford.

John Vowell, alias Hooker, dedicated to Woolton, as bishop, and to the dean and chapter, his 'Catalog of the Bishops of Excester.'

[Foster's Alumni Oxon. 1500–1714; Wood's Athenæ, ed. Bliss, i. 600–1; Wood's Fasti, i. 146, 214; Raines's Manchester Rectors and Wardens (Chetham Soc. new ser. vol. v.), pp. 84–9; Le Neve's Fasti, i. 379; Rymer's Fœdera, xv. 752; Oliver's Exeter City, p. 204; Oliver's Exeter Bishops, pp. 140–2, 272; Stubbs's Reg. Sacrum Anglic. p. 85; Churton's Nowell, pp. 255–9 and pedigree; Oliver's Eccl. Antiquities in Devon, 1840, i. 40, 161; Strype's Annals, iii. i. 31–2; Strype's Whitgift, i. 419–22, iii. 153–60.]

W. P. C.