Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Abbot, George (1562-1633)
ABBOT, GEORGE (1562–1633), archbishop of Canterbury, was born at Guildford on 29 Oct. 1562. His father, Maurice Abbot, was a clothworker of the town; his mother’s maiden name was Alice March or Marsh; their cottage, the birthplace of the archbishop, was ‘by the river’s side, near to the bridge on the north side in St. Nicolas’ parish,’ and, after serving for some years in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries as an alehouse with the sign of ‘The Three Mariners,’ remained standing until 1864 (Murray’s Surrey, p. 74). Abbot’s parents were staunch protestants; they had first ‘embraced the truth of the Gospel in King Edward’s days, and were persecuted for it in Queen Mary’s reign (by Dr. Story of infamous memory), and notwithstanding all troubles and molestations continued constant in the profession of the truth till their death,’ which took place within ten days of each other in September 1606. George was their second son; their eldest was Robert, bishop of Salisbury; their sixth and youngest son, Maurice, became an eminent London merchant (Fuller’s Abel Redivivus, p. 539). Singularly successful as were the careers of this ‘happy ternion of brothers,’ it was on George alone that the hopes of his family were from the first unmistakably set. Before his birth his mother had a curious dream, long remembered in his native town, prognosticating a great career for him, and news of the vision brought ‘the best inhabitants of Guildford ... to the christening of the child’ (Aubrey, Miscellanies, ed. 1857, p. 58). Abbot received his early education at the free grammar school at Guildford, and was ‘there bred up a scholar’ (ibid.). When sixteen years old he entered Balliol College, Oxford, in 1582 took the degree of B.A., and became a probationer fellow of his college on 29 Nov. 1583. In 1585 he proceeded M.A., and at the same time took holy orders. During eight succeeding years Abbot devoted himself to the study of theology, and to tutorial work in the university. In 1593 he received the degree of B.D., and four years later that of D.D.
Abbot rapidly won an academical reputation as a powerful preacher and efficient lecturer. His sermons at St. Mary’s drew large congregations. In 1594 he began a course of lectures on the book of Jonah, continued at intervals for many years ‘both winter and summer on Thursday mornings early,’ and in 1597, presumably when he took the degree of D.D., he read publicly in the theological school at Oxford six theses, which were published in the following year. The book was entitled ‘Quæstiones sex totidem prælectionibus in Schola Theologica Oxoniæ pro forma habitis discussæ et disceptatæ anno 1597, in quibus e sacra Scriptura et Patribus, quid statuendum sit definitur,’ and it was deemed worthy by Abraham Scultetus of republication at Frankfort in 1616. In this volume, as in all his published works, Abbot’s theological position was forcibly enunciated. He had inherited from his parents a strong affection for the reformed faith; Oxford, as he knew it in his undergraduate days, was a puritan stronghold, and its tutors were steeped in the theology of Calvin and St. Augustine. It was thus that Abbot became ‘stiffly principled’ in puritan doctrines, and his views, cast in a dangerously narrow mould, took from his habitually gloomy and morose temperament a fanatical colouring. A natural horror of disorder distinguished him from the extreme section of the puritans, and made the separatists detestable to him. In questions of church government he was content to stand by episcopacy, but he saw in bishops a superintending pastorate and no separate order of the ministry. He always forcibly advocated reasonable obedience to the crown and all duly constituted authority, but whenever the demands of loyalty conflicted with his sense of duty he did not hesitate to act in accordance with the latter.
Abbot’s vehement support of the puritan position soon attracted the admiration of Thomas Sackville, Lord Buckhurst, ‘a special maintainer of the true religion,’ who became chancellor of the university in 1591, and appointed Abbot his private chaplain soon afterwards. Five years later Oxford confirmed this mark of esteem. On 6 Sept. 1597, at the comparatively early age of thirty-five, Abbot was elected master of University College. According to Clarendon’s unfriendly judgment, University was at the time ‘one of the poorest colleges in Oxford,’ and the ‘learning sufficient for that province’ small (History, i. 125, ed. 1849). But of Abbot’s own learning there can be no genuine doubt, and the appointment gave him many opportunities of exhibiting its quality with effect. It was quickly followed by his nomination to the deanery of Winchester, in which he was installed on 6 March 1599–1600, and before the year was out Abbot was chosen vice-chancellor of the university. To Lord Buckhurst, who succeeded Lord Burghley as lord high treasurer in 1599, Abbot ascribed all these preferments, and he did not delay the expression of his gratitude. Writing to him on 10 Oct. 1600, Abbot spoke of his ‘desire to let men understand with how honorable a regard your lordship hath been pleased now for diverse yeares to looke upon me, and of your lordship’s owne disposition at every first occasion so to think on my preferment, as I had no reason in my conceit to looke for or in any way expect’ (Dedication to Jonah, 1600). In 1603 and in 1605 he was twice reappointed to the vice-chancellorship.
Abbot put all his energy into his rapidly increasing work at Oxford. Although a strict disciplinarian his pupils remembered him with affection in after life. With a ‘very towardly one’ of them. Sir Dudley Digges, he remained on terms of the closest intimacy until his death. ‘He calleth me father,’ wrote Abbot in 1627, ‘and I term his wife my daughter. His eldest son is my godson, and their children are in love accounted my grandchildren.’ Another of his pupils, Sir George Savile, who married a sister of Sir Thomas Wentworth, afterwards Earl of Strafford, left his son on his death to Abbot’s guardianship. In 1599 he wrote for his pupils a useful geographical treatise — ‘a briefe description of the whole world’ — which included an account of America, and was repeatedly reprinted, a fifth edition appearing in 1664. About the same time he concluded his lectures on Jonah, which received very general commendation, and he published them in London in 1600 with a dedication to Lord Buckhurst; in 1613 they reached a second edition. Their occasional digressions into topics of general interest, like the prospects of protestantism in France, explain much of their popularity. (A reprint of the work appeared in 1845, edited, with a life of the author, by Grace Webster.) Throughout the university Abbot at the same time kept strict order as vice-chancellor. He caused a number of religious pictures, which he regarded as incentives to idolatry, to be burnt in the market-place of the town, and on 27 April 1601 he reported to the chancellor how he had arrested one Abraham Colfe, B. A., of Christ Church, ‘for publicly in the hall making a very offensive declaration in the cause of the late Earl of Essex.’ But in his official capacity Abbot was also summoned to take part in the theological controversies raging outside the university. The citizens of London, who were mainly puritan in feeling, were in 1600 at feud with Richard Bancroft, their bishop, and Abbot with the vice-chancellor of Cambridge was called on to arbitrate in the dispute. Its origin was comparatively simple. A crucifix that had long stood in Cheapside had fallen down, and the bishop had ordered its re-erection. To this the citizens had demurred, and Abbot’s opinion on the matter was invited. He unhesitatingly condemned the renovation of the crucifix; ‘if,’ he said, ‘a monument was required in Cheapside, let an obelisk be set up there.’ But, with his characteristic hatred of unruliness, he discouraged the citizens from taking the law into their own hands (Letter to the Citizens of London, 1600). In the result Abbot’s advice was rejected, and a plain stone cross took the place of the crucifix. But his remarks, which threw him into disfavour with Bancroft, attracted much attention. ‘The cross in Cheap is going up,’ wrote Chamberlain to Carleton (3 Feb. 1600–1), ‘for all your vice-chancellor of Oxford and some other odd divines have set down their censure against it’ (Chamberlain’s Letters, Camd. Soc., p. 102). And in 1602, when Abbot preached in London at the Temple Church, one of his hearers testified to his assured reputation by entering notes of the sermon in his diary (Manningham’s Diary, Camd. Soc., pp. 126–7).
At Oxford, as in London, Abbot was not long able to maintain his cherished opinions unchallenged. Before the close of the sixteenth century there were signs of change in the religious atmosphere of the university, but Abbot’s conservative tone of mind did not enable him readily to grasp their significance. John Buckeridge, the chief tutor of St. John’s, had begun to brandish ‘the sword of Scripture’ against the puritans, and his pupil and later colleague, William Laud, eagerly followed in his footsteps. When Abbot was vice-chancellor in 1603, Laud was proctor, and a collision between the two theologians was inevitable. In a divinity lecture delivered at St. John’s College in the preceding year Laud had asserted the perpetual visibility of the ‘church of Christ derived from the apostles and the church of Rome, continued in that church (and in others of the east and south) to the Reformation.’ This was an admission of the beneficial influence of the papacy, against which Abbot rebelled. According to Heylin, Laud’s friend and biographer, Abbot from that time ‘conceived a strong grudge against [the preacher], which no tract of time could either abolish or diminish,’ and certain it is that in 1603 he at once sharply reproved him and drew up a summary of his own views on this subject. It was Abbot’s endeavour to show, by aid of much curious learning, how ‘the noble worthies of the christian world,’ among whom he only numbered opponents of the papacy like Waldo, Wycliffe, Huss, and Luther, ‘after they had finished their course, delivered the lamp of their doctrine from one to another.’ The pamphlet was widely circulated in manuscript, and was unfortunately published by an anonymous admirer in 1624, when Laud was in a position to use it to the injury of Abbot’s reputation with the king and the Duke of Buckingham (Laud’s Diary, in his Works, iii. 145). It appeared, however, without Abbot’s name, but with his arms — three pears impaled with the arms of the see of Canterbury — engraved on the title-page. This is probably the work of Abbot’s popularly called in error ‘Look beyond Luther’ (H. Savage, Balliofergus, p. 114). But the early quarrels with Laud did not cease here. In 1606, when Dr. Henry Airay, provost of Queen’s and a friend of Abbot’s, was vice-chancellor, Laud was openly reprimanded for a sermon preached at St. Mary’s, ‘as containing in it sundry scandalous and popish passages.’ And Abbot, according to Laud’s sympathisers, brought all his influence to bear to the injury of the offender. ‘He so violently persecuted the poor man, and so openly branded him for a papist, or at least very popishly inclined, that it was often made an heresy (as I have heard from his own mouth) for any one to be seen in his company, and a misprision of heresy to give him a civil salutation as he walked the streets’ (Heylin, ed. 1668, p. 54).
Laud was not the only champion of dissentient views that Abbot thought it necessary to attack at the time. ‘A certain audacious person who termeth himself Doctour Hill,’ a seminary priest, had represented in a book printed at Antwerp that popery was ‘the true faith of Christ,’ and that England was ‘a sinke of wickednesse beyond all the nations of the earth’ (see Foley, Records, vi. 192). The volume was a new version of Richard Bristow’s ‘Motives inducing to the Catholike faith,’ ‘a book of great vogue with the papists’ (Strype, Annals, II. i. 498). ‘At the intreaty of others,’ Abbot spent a year and a half (1603–4) in preparing a refutation of Bristow’s and Hill’s logic, and late in 1604 he published at Oxford, with a dedication to Lord Buckhurst, who had just been created Earl of Dorset, a fiercely worded pamphlet, ‘unmasking’ Dr. Hill, and showing ten of his reasons ‘to be very weake, and upon examination most insufficient for the purpose.’ An eloquent eulogy on the reign of Queen Elizabeth is to be found in its pages, and a justifiable attack upon Cardinal Allen’s writings. A continuation of the work was partly written, but was never sent to press. The heated temper in which Abbot conducted controversial discussion did not always commend itself to the undergraduates, and when holding the office of vice-chancellor for the third time in 1605, he had to commit one hundred and forty of them to prison for disrespectfully sitting ‘with their hats on’ in his presence at St. Mary’s Church (Nichols, Progresses, i. 559).
In 1604 Abbot’s scholarship had been put to a more dignified employment. Early in that year a new translation of the Bible had been resolved on at the Hampton Court conference, and Abbot, with seven other Oxford graduates, was entrusted with the responsible task of revising the older translations of the four gospels, the Acts, and the Apocalypse. But these labours did not withdraw him from polemical literature or public affairs. In 1606, Abbot, as dean of Winchester, attended convocation. The assembly was engaged in examining a work by Dr. Overall, ‘concerning the government of God’s catholic church and the kingdoms of the whole world.’ The book vigorously advocated the doctrine of non-resistance to de facto rulers; it confirmed its conclusion by a misty interpretation of Old Testament history, and was imagined to strike a crushing blow at the political theories of the Roman catholics. Convocation by a unanimous vote expressed its high approval of the volume, but James I was dissatisfied with this result: he feared that Overall’s doctrine would confirm every successful usurper in undisturbed possession of the throne. Abbot had doubtless taken an active part in the discussion, and he had already come into personal relations with the king; once, in 1603, he had carried to him at Woodstock the congratulations of the university on his accession; and again, in 1605, he had been much in his company when the king had been entertained at Oxford by the chancellor, the Earl of Dorset, and had honoured with his presence several formal theological debates over which Abbot had presided. Upon Abbot, therefore, James conferred the distinction of addressing him a letter, partly written in his own hand, stating his views on the action of convocation. ‘Good Dr. Abbot,’ the king began, ‘I cannot abstain to give you my judgment of your proceedings in your convocation, as you call it.’ And he proceeded to point out that he himself was no mere de facto ruler, but owed his throne to the highest claims of hereditary right. The letter marked a distinct stage in the growth of Abbot’s reputation.
In 1608 his patron, the Earl of Dorset, died, and on 20 May Abbot preached the sermon at his funeral in Westminster Abbey; it was published soon afterwards at the earnest solicitations ‘of diuers of speciall qualitie and note,’ with a dedication to Cicely, the widowed countess. But Abbot immediately found a new and equally influential patron. He became chaplain to the Earl of Dunbar, lord high treasurer of Scotland, who, as Sir George Hume, had become the intimate friend of James I before his accession to the English throne, and while in attendance upon him Abbot performed several important political services. Lord Dunbar had for some years devoted himself to the re-establishment of episcopacy in Scotland, a project in which the king was deeply interested, and he had so far succeeded as to have obtained an act of parliament for the creation of a number of bishops, but the part they were to play in the presbyterian system of government, which was to remain, as far as possible, undisturbed, was not yet satisfactorily settled. In July 1608, a general assembly was summoned at Linlithgow, to give thorough effect to the episcopal reforms, and Abbot, with Dr. Higgins, was ordered to accompany Lord Dunbar to put the claims of episcopacy before the Scotch ministers. Abbot was well received at Linlithgow. ‘The English doctors,’ says Calderwood, the historian of the Scotch church, ‘seemed to have no other direction but to persuade the Scots there was no substantial difference in religion betwixt the two realms, but only in things indifferent concerning government and ceremonies’ (Hist. of Kirk of Scotland, published by the Wodrow Soc. vi. 735). A letter from Scotland reached James, describing with enthusiasm the effect of Abbot’s preaching (Orig. Letters on Eccles. Affairs, Bannatyne Club, i. 146). It is true that the Scotch episcopate was not ultimately restored till 1610, but Abbot’s conciliatory tone did much to prepare the way, and he himself put the finishing touch to the work in that year by presiding at the consecration of the bishops of Glasgow, Brechin, and Galloway (Calderwood, vii. 150).
This was only one of the services that Abbot rendered James on his visit to Scotland. While at Edinburgh, the trial of George Sprot, a notary of Eyemouth, charged with conspiring in 1600 to murder the king, took place, and the man was condemned and executed before Abbot left the city. Abbot carefully watched the proceedings, and attended Sprot on the scaffold. The plot in which the convict had taken part was known as the Gowrie plot, and its chief authors, the Earl of Gowrie and his friends, were alleged to have invited James, in 1600, to a house at Perth, and to have locked him in a room with a ruffian who had been hired to kill him. James escaped; the earl and his friends were slain by the royal attendants, and an order was issued to the ministers of religion throughout Scotland to hold thanksgiving services for the king’s salvation; these services had been introduced at a later date into England, and continued throughout James’s reign. But the Scotch ministers had resisted them. An act of parliament had been necessary to enforce the order; doubts as to the real circumstances of the alleged plot were still abroad at the time of Sprot’s execution, and they continued to imperil friendly relations between James and his Scotch subjects. Abbot assumed the responsibility of attempting to remove the ground of disagreement. He published the notes taken by the judge at Sprot’s trial, together with a lengthy account of the ‘treasonable device betwixt John, Earl of Gowry, and Robert Logane of Restalrig (commonly called Lesterig) plotted by them for the cruel murthering of our most gracious sovereign.’ The task was probably undertaken at the suggestion of Lord Dunbar. The pamphlet, which has been reprinted in the ‘Harleian Miscellany’ (ix. 560 et seq.), was penned in a spirit that, from a modern point of view, befitted the courtier rather than the historian. James’s life was declared to be ‘so immaculate and unspotted from the world . . . that even malice itself could never find true blemish in it.’ In successive passages he was compared to David, Solomon, Josias, Constantine the Great, Moses, Hezekiah, and Theodosius; but extravagant adulation was the recognised homage that loyal subjects, and especially the clergy, paid their sovereign at the time, and the warning tones in which Abbot here addressed disturbers of the public peace honestly expressed the value he himself set upon orderly behaviour and respect for authority.
It was thus that Abbot, whose theological attainments had already attracted James’s notice, established a claim on his gratitude, and Lord Dunbar’s influence with the king insured that his reward should not be long delayed. On 27 May 1609, within a few months of his return from Scotland, Abbot was appointed bishop of Coventry and Lichfield, and his enthronement took place on 29 Dec. following. He had, however, scarcely visited his diocese when he was translated to a higher dignity, the bishopric of London, and he was enthroned at St. Paul’s on 12 Feb. 1609–10. But this preferment was little more permanent. In August 1610 Abbot consecrated a new churchyard presented to St. Bride’s parish by his old benefactor’s son, the Earl of Dorset. In October he consecrated the Scotch bishops. At Oxford he helped to establish Pembroke College out of the old foundation of Broadgates Hall, and throughout the year his letters to the Earl of Salisbury show that he was repressing with a strong hand throughout his diocese any manifestations of sympathy with Roman Catholicism. The poet, John Davies of Hereford, who claimed an acquaintance with him in earlier years, congratulated him on his promotion in a sonnet (Appendix to the Scourge of Folly). On 20 Nov. 1610, Richard Bancroft, archbishop of Canterbury, died, and Abbot preached a conventional sermon in his praise on the Sunday following (25 Nov.). The two religious parties throughout England were soon anxiously speculating as to Bancroft’s successor. The choice was generally expected to fall on Lancelot Andrewes, bishop of Ely. Abbot had no belief in his own chances of promotion, and the death of Lord Dunbar on 30 Jan. 1610–11, before the vacancy was filled, seemed to exclude him altogether from the list of likely candidates. But James had already consulted Dunbar; the earl had unhesitatingly advanced Abbot’s claim, and his advice had been accepted. On 25 Feb. 1610–11, Sir Thomas Lake, clerk to the signet, informed Lord Salisbury that the king had chosen the bishop of London to be archbishop, ‘as being an able man, and recommended by the late Earl of Dunbar, whose memory is dear to his majesty.’ Speed, the contemporary historian, speaks of his promotion as due to the ‘embassage’ in Scotland; and Secretary Calvert wrote in March that ‘by a strong north wind coming out of Scotland, Abbot was blown over the Thames to Lambeth.’ The appointment was received with general astonishment and misgiving. Abbot himself was wonderstruck. ‘Preferment did fly upon him,’ says Fuller, ‘without his expectation.’ And if the Anglican party were depressed, the puritans were content to conceal their enthusiasm. His conduct in Scotland, to which his promotion was ascribed on all hands, had not raised him in their estimation. He was stated, it is true, to be ‘of a more fatherly presence than those who might have been his fathers for age in the church of England,’ but one ground of his unfitness was urged on many sides. ‘He was never incumbent in any living with cure of souls;’ he had not experienced the sufferings of the lower clergy, and it was feared that his want of practical training would prevent him from sympathising with their trials and difficulties. His one-sided tone of thought was more likely to render him inadequate for the post. The threatened disruption in the church of England, to which no one who mixed in public affairs could at the time close his eyes, surrounded the primacy with dangers which a statesman’s conciliatory spirit alone could meet with effect; and of that spirit Abbot had shown no certain sign.
On 4 March 1610–11 Abbot was formally nominated to the see of Canterbury, and on 9 April was ‘very honorably installed at Lambeth’ (Nichols, Progresses, ii. 424 n.; Le Neve, Fasti; see Rawlinson MS. at Oxford, C. 155, No. 54). On 30 April he took his seat in the high commission court, and on 23 June was sworn at Greenwich of the privy council. At first gloomy forebodings seemed unfounded. At court he met with a good reception. The king treated him with cordiality; the queen, who could have had no affection for his religious views, was ‘graciously pleased to give him more credit than ordinary, which . . . she continued to the time of her death.’ Henry, Prince of Wales, regarded him with the veneration that all who, like himself, approved his theology acknowledged to be his due. Nor was he without friends among the officers of state. The Earl of Salisbury, lord high treasurer, lord chancellor Ellesmere, and Sir Ralph Winwood, who became in later years secretary of state, sympathised with his opinions, and a lavish hospitality at Lambeth, which James I strongly recommended him to maintain, secured him the favour of many ‘lords spiritual and temporal, divers privy councillors and men of highest rank.’ But enemies of Abbot were also to be found among the king’s councillors. Sir Robert Carr, the king’s favourite, afterwards Viscount Rochester and Earl of Somerset, viewed his stern integrity with suspicion. Men like the Earl of Northampton, once Lord Henry Howard, a secret papist and pensioner of Spain, did not hide their disappointment at his elevation. Similarly the bench of bishops was not without malevolent spectators of his recent successes; and among the judges with whom he was brought into close contact, Abbot found it impossible to keep on friendly terms with Sir Edward Coke.
Abbot flung himself with vigour into the various duties of his office, but his early actions showed much want of tact and prevision. He saw that the Calvinist theology was losing its hold on the upper classes of society, and that Arminianism was taking its place; but, with characteristic narrowness of view, he charged the newer doctrines with either Roman catholic or sceptical tendencies. To destroy them utterly by means of the high commission court and of the other arbitrary tribunals in which he took his seat was his immediate aim. ‘Sentences of correction,’ says Hacket, the biographer of Williams, ‘or rather of destruction, have their epocha in the predominance of Abbot in that [the commission] court.’ From the catholics bitter cries at once rose. Recusants’ fines were unceasingly inflicted, and defaulters for payment imprisoned. ‘They may expect,’ wrote the Earl of Northampton of some catholic prisoners in 1612, ‘little mercy when the metropolitan is mediator.’ On 10 June 1615 he summoned a prebendary of Christ Church, Oxford, to appear before the king on a charge of coquetting with popery because he had complained of the prevalence of puritanism, and had failed to denounce its antithesis with fitting severity or frequency. In 1613 he came into open collision with the Spanish ambassador. He imprisoned in his own palace a lady, Donna Luisa de Carvajal, an enthusiastic benefactress of the English catholic college of Flanders, who was staying at the Spanish embassy, and appeal had to be made to James to obtain her release. He employed spies in all parts of England, and he did not fear to attack men in the highest stations. He obtained full information of the relations existing between the Earl of Northampton, the lord privy seal, and Spain, and boldly challenged him to deny his belief in papal doctrines at the council board in 1612. At the same time the earl was trying to suppress damaging reports about himself by a suit of defamation in the Star Chamber against several persons who publicly called him a papist, and Abbot is said to have produced in open court a letter from Northampton to Cardinal Bellarmine, in which he declared that his ‘heart stood with the papists;’ the death of the earl, which took place in 1614, has been somewhat erroneously attributed by a few writers to the shock of this disclosure. Nor was Abbot willing to see the authority of the high commission court in the smallest degree abridged. In 1611 a Sir William Chauncy had been charged with adultery before that tribunal, and had, on disobeying its order to provide a maintenance for his wife, been sent to prison. Chauncy had appealed to the lord chief justice of the common pleas against the high commission court’s judgment, which Coke asserted to be illegal. Abbot tried in vain to change Coke’s opinion, and although the king finally settled the point in the archbishop’s favour, Coke treated Abbot’s protest with irritating indifference. In 1616 Abbot was one of the commissioners appointed to report on Coke’s opinion as to the interpretation of the præmunire statutes, and declared against it. Abbot was similarly anxious to enforce the utmost rigours that the law allowed him in cases of alleged scepticism, and in this procedure likewise Coke attempted to thwart him. In 1611 two ‘blasphemous heretics,’ as he called them, Bartholomew Legate and Edward Wightman, were brought before his court. Abbot was from the first resolved that no mercy should be shown them. Their offence was mainly Arianism, and on 21 Jan. 1611–2 he wrote to lord chancellor Ellesmere that a commission of three or four judges ought to deal with them as capital offenders, and that the king was anxious to see ‘these evil persons’ receive at once ‘the recompenses of their pride and impiety.’ He advised care in a later letter (22 Jan.) in the choice of the judges, and urged that those should be selected who ‘make no doubt that the law is clear to burn them.’ Coke was thus, he advised, to be excluded from the tribunal, for he was known to disagree with the archbishop’s interpretation of the old statutes affecting heresy (Egerton Papers, Camd. Soc. pp. 446–8). And Abbot was finally triumphant. Early in 1614 Legate was burnt at Smithfield, and Wightman at Burton-upon-Trent. In another case of a political complexion he approved the use of torture. A Somersetshire clergyman, Edmund Peacham, was charged, in 1614, with libelling the king in a written sermon which had never been preached. Abbot was at the time receiving reports of catholic conspiracies, to which he always lent a willing ear. When, therefore, Peacham was brought before the privy council in his presence, and persisted in denying the alleged offence, Abbot readily assented to the proposal that he should be put to the ‘manacles.’ Bacon has been charged with taking a very active part in the persecution of Peacham, but Abbot must be credited with equal responsibility (Spedding, Life of Bacon, v. 91).
Abbot, however, did not confine his attention to propagating his views at home. He persuaded James I to use all his influence against Roman Catholicism and against heresies in every country of Europe. He sought information as to the state of religion abroad from the English ambassadors, and with Sir Dudley Carleton, the ambassador first at Venice and afterwards in Holland, he maintained a lengthy correspondence. In Holland he jealously watched the rise of Arminianism, and in 1612 he excited the king’s hostility against Conrad Vorstius, recently appointed to the professorship of theology at Leyden, whose views were said to savour of Arianism and Arminianism. James, in fact, applied to the states general for the dismissal of Vorstius, and the request was granted. Grotius came over to England in 1613, to endeavour to soothe James’s excited feelings against the Arminian party of the United Provinces, and to counteract Abbot’s influence, which was aggravating the religious differences in Holland almost as much as in England. But Abbot resented his interference. He called him a busybody, and warned the secretary of state, Sir Ralph Winwood, of his ambition and indiscretion. ‘You must take heed how you trust Dr. Grotius too far,’ he wrote (1 June, 1613), and he reported how the Dutch envoy’s conversation with the king was ‘tedious and full of tittle-tattle,’ and how he compared the ‘factious contradictors’ of his own opinions in his own country to ‘our puritans’ in England (Winwood, Memorials, iii. 459–60) — a comparison that was little likely to reconcile Abbot to his presence at court. But both at home and abroad Abbot looked forward to the conversion of his religious opponents, and he treated all foreigners who set foot in this country, and were willing to follow his religious guidance, with much generosity. In his lectures on Jonah at Oxford he had condemned in a forcible passage the inhospitable reception often accorded to foreigners by ‘the meaner people’ of England, and their groundless suspicions of ‘outlandish folks.’ He had bidden his pupils use protestant aliens as brethren, and such was his own invariable practice (Strype, Annals, II. i. 252). In 1612 an Italian friar desirous of conversion was installed in his palace; in the following year he made arrangements for the settlement in England of Antonio de Dominis, formerly archbishop of Spalato, who had renounced the catholic faith. Abbot offered Antonio, through Carleton (15 Dec. 1613), ‘a private life in a university and 200l a year,’ but the plan was not very successful. The prelate arrived and took up his quarters at Lambeth, but he was ‘an unquiet man, and not of that fair, quiet, civil carriage as would give him contentment’ (Goodman, Court of James I, i. 339). He obtained the deanery of Windsor and the mastership of the Savoy, but was still discontented, and a refusal of the reversion to the archbishopric of York caused him, in 1622, to turn upon his benefactors. He attacked Abbot severely, and reproached him with withholding the 200l originally promised him; finally he announced his intention of returning to Rome, and thereupon Abbot ordered him, with the king’s acquiescence, to leave England within twenty days and return at his peril (21 March 1621–2). Abbot secured his loose manuscripts, including the original manuscript of Sarpi’s history of the council of Trent, of which he had long been anxious to obtain possession, and which was first printed at London under his direction in 1619 (cf. his letters in Lewis Atterbury’s Some Letters relating to the Council of Trent, 1705). With Casaubon Abbot remained on more peaceable terms. He frequently received him at Lambeth, and stood with James I sponsor for one of his children on 4 Nov. 1612 (Cal. State Papers); he aided with his influence the scholar’s endeavour to convert a Jew of Oxford; he read over Casaubon’s elaborate criticism on Baronius, and forbade the publication of a pirated version of some portions of the work (Pattison, Life of Casaubon, pp. 410, 418, 429). Abbot often raised funds for French or Dutch protestants in distress, and educated at Oxford at his own expense several Greeks and other foreigners. In 1619, he had the satisfaction of reconciling the Calvinists of Jersey to the church of England. In Ireland Abbot discouraged any conciliatory policy towards the catholics, and although he strongly condemned the endeavours of the Scotch bishops to resist the practices of the English church, he maintained a personal intimacy with many of them. On 7 July 1616 he absolved the Marquis of Huntley at Lambeth from the excommunication recently imposed on him by the Scotch bishops for his suspected papistical intrigues; and silenced the discontent in Scotland that his reversal of this act of the Scotch episcopate was likely to rouse by a very cleverly worded if somewhat casuistical letter (23 July) to the general assembly (Calderwood, History, vii. 218, 226; Letters during Reign of James I, Bannatyne Club, ii. 471 et seq.).
In matters of wider political significance Abbot played an equally prominent part. His religious views had led him to form a definite foreign policy, of which the one aim was to crush Spain and to be wary of France. The marriages of James’s son and daughter, Henry and Elizabeth, were occupying the ministers’ attention when Abbot joined their councils. Proposals had been made as early as 1607 for a marriage between the Princess Elizabeth and the Duke of Savoy, brother-in-law of the King of Spain, and in 1611 it was suggested that Prince Henry at the same time should marry a Spanish princess. The scheme alarmed Abbot; he vehemently opposed it at the council board, but his opposition would hardly have been successful, though Salisbury discountenanced the alliances, had not the Spaniards themselves raised insuperable objections to the English terms. But Abbot was determined that, so far as he could help it, the debates, when they dropped in 1611, should not be reopened. The protestant Elector Palatine of Germany had offered Elizabeth his hand before the Spanish negotiations closed, and on this union Abbot set his heart. Prince Henry was of Abbot’s opinion. In September 1612 the elector palatine came over to England, and Abbot and he were soon on friendly terms. A month or two before, a Spanish ambassador, Zuñiga, had been in England to propose another Spanish suitor to Elizabeth in the person of the king of Spain himself. But Abbot, in a strongly worded letter to the king (22 July), had shown how bribery and corruption of the courtiers were, according to his secret information, the instruments on which Zuñiga depended for the success of his mission (cf. Strype, Annals, iv. 564). It was by such means that Abbot cleared the path of the German prince, and matters made satisfactory progress. But the marriage seemed likely to be long and dangerously delayed. At the close of October, Prince Henry was taken fatally ill, and shortly afterwards died. Abbot, ‘like a grave and a religious churchman,’ was with him to the last, and certified that he died in the true faith; but the blow was a severe one for his prospects. His grief was overwhelming; at the funeral in Westminster Abbey he preached the sermon, and his words were almost choked by his tears and ‘exceeding passion, showing the inward sorrow of his heart.’ But, in spite of her brother’s sad death, Abbot endeavoured to push on the negotiations for the marriage of the princess. On 27 Dec. 1612, he ceremonially affianced her and the elector at Whitehall. On 29 Jan. 1612–3, he gave, in honour of the approaching union, a banquet at Lambeth to the German prince’s followers, which the elector ‘took so kindly that when they were ready to sit down, himself came, though he were never invited or expected.’ The entertainment was worthy of ‘the giver and receiver,’ and the elector soon returned the courtesy. ‘He feasted all the council at Essex House, where, in regard of the entertainment he found with the archchbishop, he showed him more kindness and caresses than to all the rest put together.’ About a fortnight later (12 Feb.) Abbot married the elector and the princess ‘in all points according to the Book of Common Prayer,’ and one of his political aims was thus, he imagined, attained. But James I did not seem to be so well satisfied with the event as Abbot could have wished. In April his daughter and son-in-law left England, and the elector wrote to the archbishop from Canterbury that the king, who had resented his request for the release of Lord Grey, a political prisoner and supporter of Arabella Stuart, ‘did not use him like a son, but rather like a youngling or childish youth not to be regarded’ (Winwood, Memorials, iii. 454). The elector’s friendship for Abbot was, however, unimpaired. Before his departure he presented him with a piece of plate of the value of 1,000l., although he made no presents to any other of his English friends, except a very small one to the lord chancellor Ellesmere.
In general home politics, Abbot found it difficult to steer a course that should not jeopardise either his loyalty or his honesty, and the difficulty grew in intensity with every year. He was willing, with characteristic generosity, to make some material sacrifices for his sovereign in his financial difficulties; when the parliament of 1614 refused James the subsidies of which he stood greatly in need, Abbot wrote to the bishops begging them to testify ‘their duty unto their sovereign’ by some free-will offering. He urged every bishop to ‘send unto the king the best piece of plate which he had, and if his majesty should be pleased to accept of this,’ he promised to move the civilians and others of the ‘abler sort of clergy according to their proportions to do the like,’ but he was anxious that ‘no poor man should be grated on’ (Goodman, Court of James I, ed. Brewer, ii. 157). Abbot himself forwarded to James a basin and ewer that sold for 140l. But in 1615, when the king had still large debts that pressed for payment, Abbot was one of those councillors who strongly urged an appeal to parliament, though he did not discountenance what we should hold to be an exertion of undue influence on the constituencies (Spedding, Bacon, v. 205). Abbot was not, however, courtier enough to retain at any time the full confidence of the king. In 1613 he twice came into open collision with him. In the first place, a dispute arose as to the will of Thomas Sutton, who had bequeathed all his fortune to the foundation of the Charterhouse at Smithfield, and James I attempted to divert the money to his own uses. But Abbot would not sanction the proposed malversation, which he attributed to the judges, and James had to yield to the archbishop’s representations. A more serious quarrel in the same year was occasioned by Abbot’s disregard of the king’s wishes in the matter of the divorce petitioned for by the Countess of Essex, once Lady Frances Howard. The lady insisted on the nullity of her marriage with the Earl of Essex. It was known that she was of profligate temperament, and was, at the same time as she was petitioning against Essex, arranging for her remarriage to the Earl of Somerset, the king’s favourite. Her petition was referred to a commission, consisting of Abbot as president, with five bishops and six civil lawyers. The king was strongly in the countess’s favour, and urged Abbot to grant her suit. But Abbot took an opposite view. The countess was a niece of the Earl of Northampton, his bitterest enemy in the council chamber, and he was not therefore prejudiced in her favour. There was very scanty evidence to prove her charges against her husband, and she made admissions in cross-examination which practically invalidated all her testimony. Abbot knew the Earl of Essex to be ‘a religious nobleman,’ and tried hard to protect him from what he looked upon as the immoral persecution of his wife and her friends. The king’s personal intervention could not change his opinion. Some days before the final hearing of the case, he begged to be rid of the business. He was staying with the king at Windsor, and he ‘fell down on his knees twice or thrice to entreat his majesty that he might be dispensed with from being on the commission, which he would esteem a greater favour than all that he had received from him in being raised from a private position, and in so short a time, to the highest dignity.’ But James was deaf to his entreaty, and Abbot determined to act justly at all hazards. He drew up an elaborate paper, in which he pointed out the evils attending facility of divorce; he declared that ‘in the greatest breaches between man and wife, reconciliation is the best; and the worthiest pains that can be spared is to bring that about.’ But on such arguments as these, and on the insufficiency of evidence, Abbot, with strange perversity, did not, at the critical moment, lay any decided emphasis. He sent to the king a statement of his views, supported by numberless irrelevant quotations from theologians of the reformation era, which only served to exasperate James. The king replied in a letter, of which the first words ran: ‘I must freely confess to you I find the grounds of your opposition so weak as I have reason to apprehend that the prejudices you have of the persons is the greatest motive in breeding these doubts in you.’ Still Abbot did not swerve, and when he was called upon for his judgment, with the brevity that the king had enjoined on him, he pronounced for the validity of the marriage. But the majority of the commissioners — seven out of twelve — took an opposite view, and the marriage was finally annulled. Abbot’s loss of favour at court by his conduct of this case was a general topic of conversation at the time, and all his subsequent misfortunes were ascribed by one contemporary writer to his persistent disregard of the king’s wishes in the matter (Weldon, Court of King James, printed in Secret History of James I’s Court, 1811, i. 388). His presence at the marriage of the divorced countess and the Earl of Somerset in 1614 seems therefore inconsistent with his previous attitude. But it is probable that he knew that the days of Somerset’s ascendency were already numbered, and that this knowledge did not make him unwilling to conciliate the king by his presence at the ceremony. According to Bacon’s account of the mysterious trial of Somerset and his wife for the murder of Overbury, papers had some time previously fallen into Abbot’s hands which formed the basis of the accusation (Spedding, v. 288). And Abbot was about to introduce to James’s notice George Villiers, who rapidly reconciled the king to Somerset’s downfall.
His introduction of George Villiers to court was the most disastrous step that Abbot ever took. It is true that Villiers at the time (10 Dec. 1615) styled the archbishop his father, and Abbot declared that he would repute and esteem him for his son, but the queen prophesied truly when she told the archbishop ‘if this young man be once brought in, the first persons that he will plague must be you that labour for him’ (Goodman, Court of James I, ii. 160, and Rushworth, Collections, i. 456). When Villiers had been installed as the king’s favourite, the question of the Spanish marriage once again came to the surface, and Abbot found that the views against which his whole soul rebelled had in Villiers their warmest advocate. Very steadily, between 1617 and 1622, the scheme for Charles’s marriage with the infanta of Spain took shape, and Abbot and his friends left no stone unturned to thwart its progress. To create war with Spain was their definite object, and Abbot’s ally, Winwood, the secretary of state, who was always ‘exceedingly beholden,’ as Chamberlain had written (9 Jan. 1612–13), ‘to that prelate for his good word and opinion,’ has been charged with agitating for Sir Walter Raleigh’s despatch on his last expedition in the hope of his breaking the peace with Spain (Gardiner, History, ed. 1884, iii. 53). But here, at any rate, Abbot suffered the bitterest disappointment. Raleigh attacked the Spaniards in South America, but, so far from England supporting his acts, he was charged before six English commissioners, of whom, as ill fortune would have it, Abbot was one, and proved to have been guilty of breaking his promise to his sovereign, and of injuring the subjects of the king of Spain (22 Oct. 1618). His execution, on a sentence passed upon him fifteen years before, followed, and Abbot was in no position to raise a protest. Winwood, whose complicity in Raleigh’s aggressions was openly suspected, had died 27 Oct. 1617, much to Abbot’s grief, and the archbishop had to salve his conscience for Raleigh’s death by attributing it to his ‘questioning’ of ‘God’s being and omnipotence, which that just Judge made good upon himself in over-humbling his estate, but last of all in bringing him to an execution by law, where he died a religious and christian death’ (Abbot to Sir Thomas Roe, 19 Feb. 1618–19). And meanwhile the affairs of Abbot’s friend in Germany, the elector palatine, were intensifying his desire of a war not only with Spain but with the catholic powers of the empire. The elector, as the champion of protestantism on the continent, had been chosen king of Bohemia, and the emperor and the catholic princes of Germany were arrayed against him. In the most vigorous letter he ever penned, Abbot sketched the policy that England, as he thought, should at once adopt. Serious illness kept him from the council when the question of aiding the king’s son-in-law was to be discussed; but he wrote (12 Sept. 1619) to Naunton, the king’s secretary: ‘I have never more desired to be present at any consultation. I am satisfied in my conjecture that the cause is just.’ Therefore he urged that England should join in the elector’s war, and ‘let it be really prosecuted,’ he said, ‘that it may appear to the world that we are awake when God in this sort calleth to us.’ He hoped that ‘our striking in’ would lead all the protestant powers of Europe to ‘run the same fortune.’ ‘For the means to support the war’ he concluded, ‘providebit Deus’ (Cabala, ed. 1654, i. 169). Generous enthusiasm, but little statesmanship, characterised this utterance, and Abbot suffered the humiliation of seeing his proposals flung on one side, and the Spanish marriage treaty proceeded with uninterruptedly.
On every side Abbot found the tide against him. In 1618 the king published, at the suggestion of Bishop Morton, ‘the declaration of sports’ sanctioning Sabbath amusements, which Abbot regarded as imperilling the religious faith of the people. His loyalty could not prevail upon him to obey the decree that authorised it to be read in churches. At Croydon, where he was at the time, he forbade its proclamation in the parish church; James I ignored his resistance, but Abbot’s position was not improved. Other misfortunes accompanied this episode: the death (2 March 1617–18) of his brother Robert, a theologian of his own school, whom he had consecrated to the bishopric of Salisbury, in December 1615, greatly grieved him, although the bishop’s second marriage had caused a temporary estrangement between the brothers. The queen, who had favoured Abbot in spite of her opposite religious views, died on the same date in the year following; and although the archbishop had the satisfaction of hearing from her own lips on her death-bed a confession of adherence to the protestant faith, he lost in her his last influential friend at court. Abbot preached the sermon at her funeral at Westminster on 13 March 1618–19.
Later in 1619 Abbot retired for a few days from public life with its wearing anxiety to confer a munificent gift upon his native town. On 5 April 1619 the first stone was laid in his presence of a hospital ‘for the maintenance of a master, twelve brethren, and eight sisters,’ to be erected at his expense opposite Trinity Church. He endowed the foundation with land to the value of three hundred pounds, which he obtained a license to purchase in mortmain. It was incorporated by charter 14 June 1622. Rooms for his private use and a chapel were attached to it, and he often retired to its seclusion when he was oppressed by the heavy weight of public office. The building is still standing, and has undergone few alterations. Abbot’s birthday, 29 Oct., is still commemorated there, and the archbishop for the time being is the visitor of the hospital. A brass in the chapel, set up by Abbot to the memory of his father and mother, who both died in 1606, is a testimony to his filial tenderness which was one of the few traits that his habitual moroseness of temper never overcast.
But outside Guildford the clouds still gathered about him. A complication of disorders was already breaking down his health. Bacon, with whom he had maintained friendly relations, was disgraced, and Abbot had himself moved for the attendance of the commons to hear his sentence in the House of Lords (2 May 1621). The pride of Villiers was still thwarting all his cherished schemes, and Arminianism, always to him a detestable heresy, was acquiring new force in England. The synod of Dort, 1618, at which one of his own chaplains represented him, had ended in a barren expression of approval of Calvinism, and little attention had been paid in England to Abbot’s injunctions to Carleton to use his influence against the spread of Arminianism in Holland, or to his suggestion that the hostility of the Dutch in the East Indies, which was causing his brother Maurice the utmost anxiety, was prompted by the Arminian followers of Barnaveldt [see Abbot, Sir Maurice]. But a curious accident in 1621 brought on Abbot fresh humiliations which cast a deep shadow over the remainder of his life. In the summer of that year Lord Zouch, with whom he had long been on friendly terms, invited him to a hunting party at Bramshill Park, Hampshire. Crossbows were used in the sport, and on 24 July Abbot, when shooting at a buck, had the misfortune to kill one Peter Hawkins, a gamekeeper. The man had already been warned to keep out of the huntsmen’s way, and the coroner’s jury returned a verdict of per infortunium suæ propriæ culpæ. News of the accident was sent to the king, who declared that none but a fool or a knave would think the worse of a man for such an occurrence, and that the like had often nearly happened to himself. The archbishop was greatly distressed; he prescribed for himself a monthly fast on Tuesday, the day of the misfortune, and settled 20l. a year on Hawkins’s widow, ‘which,’ in Oldys’s words, ‘soon procured her another husband’ (Biog. Brit.). But others would not allow the matter to be lightly passed over. At the moment four bishops-elect were awaiting consecration. John Williams had been nominated to the see of Lincoln, John Davenant to that of Salisbury, Valentine Cary to that of Exeter, and William Laud to that of St. Davids; and in August Williams, who was perhaps personally jealous of Abbot’s successful career, and feared that public opinion might be against him if he took any other course, announced that he should refuse to be consecrated by Abbot. By the canon law he declared that homicide in a prelate made him irregular and incapable of exercising ecclesiastical jurisdiction; by the common law he forfeited his estate; to receive consecration, therefore, at Abbot’s hands would be sacrilege. Laud on this occasion acted with Williams. The quarrel between him and Abbot, which had begun at Oxford at the beginning of the century, had not yet terminated. In 1610 Abbot had used all his influence to prevent Laud’s election to the presidency of St. John’s College, Oxford (Laud’s Diary in Works, iii. 134). In 1615, at the suggestion of his brother, Dr. Robert Abbot, master of Balliol, he had charged Laud before the king with libelling him in an Oxford sermon; Laud attributed his frequent disappointment of high preferment to the action of the archbishop, and he now seized the opportunity of revenging himself upon his old persecutor. The king could not resist a petition for an inquiry into Abbot’s alleged irregularity, and a commission was nominated. It included Williams, Laud, and Cary, three of the bishops-elect (Davenant, the only one of them on good terms with Abbot, being excluded), three bishops, two judges of the common pleas, the dean of arches, and another. The opinion of the Sorbonne and other foreign universities was at the same time invited. Abbot felt the indignity keenly. His unhappy accident, as he wrote (29 Aug.), was ‘a bitter potion, on account of the conflict in his conscience for what sin he is permitted to be the talk of men to the rejoicing of the papist and the insulting of the puritan.’ For some weeks he withdrew to his hospital at Guildford. But towards the end of September he was frequently at court and treated by the king with marked kindliness. He persisted in preaching occasionally in the country, ‘for which he was like to be in trouble’ (Yonge’s Diary, Camd. Soc., p. 43). At the beginning of October the commission began its sittings. Abbot desired to be represented by counsel (13 Oct. 1621), but the request was refused. His irregularity was, however, never established in England. Hunting was not allowed to be in itself a recreation inconsistent with the episcopate, and the king interpreted in the archbishop’s favour the halting decision of the commission, whose members were evenly divided as to the scandal caused to the church by the homicide. The Sorbonne, whose professors thrice discussed the question, condemned him in vain, and Spelman’s learned argument to the same effect passed almost unnoticed (Reliquiæ Spelmanniæ, pp. 111–120, under date 19 Oct. 1621). It was nevertheless thought fitting to grant Abbot a formal pardon or dispensation, which was duly signed by James, 24 Dec. 1621. But a slur had been cast upon Abbot’s reputation from which he never quite recovered. Three of the bishops-elect still refused to be consecrated by him, and he, in deference to their views, delegated the duty to the bishop of London.
Abbot in subsequent years pursued his old course of action in public affairs with all his previous energy, and his differences with the court in both foreign and domestic policy grew rapidly wider. The commons, under the guidance of Abbot’s friend, Sir Dudley Digges, came to regard him as the champion of their interests against Buckingham and his creatures, and Abbot, in dealing with the Spanish marriage treaty, very rightly interpreted their sentiments. The proposed visit of Charles and Buckingham to Madrid he opposed to the uttermost, and when, on 16 July 1623, the council was invited to give its consent to the marriage treaty, Abbot alone rose and showed by his awkward questions his contempt for the arrangement. He only signed the articles on receiving orders to do so under the great seal, and James congratulated himself on his compliance even on those terms. But the king was startled to receive early in the following August a letter, signed by the archbishop, declaiming anew with unmeasured vituperation against his toleration of popery, his indifference to parliamentary government, and the journey of the prince to Spain. The letter was clearly proved to be a forgery, but whether it was the work of Abbot’s enemies or of his too enthusiastic friends has never been known. A fruitless search was made for the author. Abbot was very backward in disavowing its authorship; it well expressed his own sentiments, and he thus incurred some of its responsibility. But the letter agreed too closely with current public opinion to allow the government to make it the ground of any open action, and the ministers contented themselves with forbidding its circulation. The events of the following months gave the anonymous letter-writer and the archbishop all the satisfaction they desired. The marriage negotiations fell through; Buckingham’s haughtiness and evil temper ruined the scheme. On 5 Oct. 1623 Prince Charles returned to England after having resigned his claim to the infanta’s hand. Abbot’s joy was unbounded; he met the prince on his arrival in London at Lambeth Stairs, and had him conveyed in his own barge to York House. On 2 March 1623–4 he took part in a conference between lords and commons as to the relations of England with Spain. A little later he proceeded to Theobalds to inform the king that the parliament was agreed that the honour and safety of England demanded a breach with Spain. His confident language, however, did not exactly meet with his majesty’s approval, and Abbot found himself far from exerting any effective influence with him. Buckingham was at the same time preparing a French alliance, which was little satisfactory to Abbot, and that policy was carried to completion before the close of the year. The duke’s growing pride was bearing all down before it. Abbot was at times so ‘dismayed’ by it that he fell sick, and had to absent himself from court (15 March 1623–4). In a letter to Carleton (18 Aug. 1624) he regrets the ‘rubs’ that all suffer alike ‘who do not stoop to that sail’ and adds that success cannot always be insured by subservience. ‘At the moment,’ Abbot concluded, ‘he [the duke] stands higher than ever, and I cannot tell what that presages.’ The church during the last few years had been comparatively peaceful. Abbot was, as of old, charitably aiding (19 Sept. 1621 and 31 Jan. 1623–4) French protestant refugees, ‘extra-ordinary sufferers in their country’s calamity,’ and was proceeding with his former vigour against seminary priests. In letters to the bishops (12 Aug. 1622) he urged, at the king’s desire, and in accordance with his old love of order, ‘the orderly preaching of Christ crucified, of obedience to the higher powers, and of a christian life, and not that every man should take exorbitant liberty to teach what he listeth to the disquiet of the king, church, and commonwealth.’ Count Mansfeld, on behalf of the elector palatine, was permitted in 1624 to raise an army in England, and the archbishop received him on his arrival in London. But just at the close of James’s reign disputes again threatened Abbot’s authority. In 1624 he refused to summon Laud, now bishop of St. David’s, to the high commission court. At the same time he was thrown into collision with one of the chief supporters of Laud’s theology. Richard Montagu, an Essex rector, in a pamphlet attacking Rome, entitled ‘A Gag for the New Gospel,’ had struck a severe blow at the doctrines of Geneva; the House of Commons denounced the work, and petitioned Abbot to punish the author. The archbishop approached the matter calmly, summoned Montagu to his presence, and, mildly reproving him, bade him make such alterations as would relieve him of all suspicion of Arminianism. But Montagu appealed against Abbot’s reproof to the king, and James I reversed the archbishop’s judgment. The writer, however, was not yet satisfied. He at once penned a fiercer vindication of his own views, entitled ‘Appello Cæsarem,’ and the king caused it to be licensed for the press by Dr. White, dean of Carlisle. Abbot was not informed of its publication; and before he could protest against this intrusion on the rights of his office James died, and Abbot had to defer any action in the matter.
The death of James was not favourable to the archbishop. He was not present at his deathbed, nor did he preach the funeral sermon; the last offices were performed by Bishop Williams. The new king was in the hands of Buckingham, and was the friend of Laud. Abbot had, it is true, known him from his boyhood; he had confirmed or ‘bishopped’ him in 1617, when his ready answers to questions on religion had excited the archbishop’s admiration (Nichols, Progresses, ii. 626). He crowned Charles at Westminster, but it was soon apparent that the king would tolerate no independent criticism from him on public or ecclesiastical affairs. The House of Commons appealed to him, in 1625, to suppress Montagu’s second book, ‘Appello Cæsarem,’ but the king intervened; he dissolved parliament, and left Abbot powerless. In the second parliament of the reign, Abbot, in spite of ill-health which compelled him to be carried into the house and to speak sitting, would not remain silent. He was present at a conference with the commons as to the English relations with France, in which he, like the commons, showed decided sympathy for the French protestants; and his connection with Sir Dudley Digges, who was managing Buckingham’s impeachment, brought him into high displeasure at court. He was also suspected of close intimacy with Sir Thomas Wentworth, whose nephew, Savile, was his ward. And Abbot made no endeavour to conciliate his enemies. In the following year Charles was in great need of money. A forced loan had been proclaimed, and Dr. Sibthorpe, vicar of Brackley, had preached a sermon before the judges at the Northampton assizes, exalting the royal prerogative and its right of arbitrary taxation. Buckingham suggested that it should be printed, and it was forwarded to Abbot for his imprimatur. William Murray, of the king’s bedchamber, brought the sermon to Lambeth. Abbot, who was ill in bed, read it and raised objections to its arguments. It sanctioned a loan for which there was neither law nor custom in England; it praised the papists and showed little sympathy with the German protestants. Murray returned a day or two later with a statement on the part of the king that Abbot’s objections were groundless. Abbot asked the attendance of Laud, who, he believed, had prompted the king to befriend Sibthorpe, to discuss the matter with him. But, although Laud refused to come, he answered Abbot’s ‘exceptions’ in a paper which Murray read to the archbishop, but which he refused to leave with him. Finally (3 May 1627) Sibthorpe’s sermon was taken to the bishop of London, and published by his authority. But Abbot’s want of compliance with the court policy was not to go unpunished. Buckingham, about to start on his Rochelle expedition, could not leave Abbot to influence the council in his absence; and he it was apparently who insisted on the archbishop’s sequestration. On 5 July 1627 Lord Conway, secretary of state, went to Croydon, whither the archbishop had retired during his recent quarrel, and ordered him to withdraw to Canterbury. No cause was assigned, but Abbot was soon afterwards bidden to meddle no more with the high commission court, and, perceiving that he was to be stripped of all authority, he removed, towards the end of July, to a private house that he owned at Ford, near Canterbury. On 9 Oct. following, a commission was issued to five bishops, including Laud and other well-known enemies of Abbot, authorising them to exercise all archiepiscopal powers and jurisdiction in the place of Abbot (Rushworth, Collections, i. 431–3). That such an act on the part of Charles was signally unlawful admits of no question. Fuller attributes it to his ‘obnoxiousness for that casualty’ of 1621, but there is no ground for assigning to it other causes than Abbot’s opposition to Buckingham’s system of government, and Laud’s personal enmity.
At the end of the following year (11 Dec. 1628) Abbot was restored to favour. He was received at court by the Archbishop of York and the Earl of Dorset, the son of his old friend, and by them introduced to the king, who bade him attend the council twice a week. But his authority was practically at an end. Laud had become bishop of London, and was always at the king’s side. In parliament, to which the lords had demanded that he should be summoned even during his sequestration, he had endeavoured to maintain his independence. In April 1628 he declared himself opposed to the king’s claim of power to commit persons to prison without showing cause. Throughout the session he begged the lords to act as the commons desired, and he tried to bring about a compromise between the lords and commons in their disputes over the additional clause attached by the lords to the petition of right, ‘saving the king’s just prerogative.’
Abbot lived chiefly in retirement after his sequestration, and his public acts during the last four years of his life are few. On 24 August 1628 he consecrated Richard Montagu, with whom he had previously come into serious collision, bishop of Chichester, and Laud’s presence at the ceremony showed that all doubts as to his inability to exercise ecclesiastical jurisdiction had been removed. In 1631 he endeavoured to stay a controversy in which Prynne had fiercely attacked the practice of bowing at the name of Jesus; but Laud ignored Abbot’s authority, and caused a book in favour of the practice, by an Oxford writer named Page, to be licensed after Abbot had announced his intention of suppressing it. Nevertheless, Abbot was constantly in attendance in the high commission court, and tried to enforce conformity in the church with consistent love of order. Between October 1631 and June 1632 he refused to allow certain London parishes to place seats above the communion table; he struggled hard in matrimonial cases to maintain a high standard of morality, and he punished the separatists, with whom he never was in sympathy. ‘You do show yourselves,’ he said to a number of them brought before him in June 1632, ‘the most ungrateful to God, and to his majesty the king, and to us the fathers of the church.’ On 3 July 1633 Abbot again emphatically showed that the simple forms and ceremonies of religious worship were no matter of indifference to him, as they never had been throughout his life, and bade the parishioners of Crayford, Kent, receive the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper on their knees at the steps ascending the altar.
Throughout these last years Abbot was also actively watching over the interests of All Souls College, of which he was visitor ex officio. The office had never been a sinecure for him. He had consistently endeavoured to enforce a strict discipline upon the students, although not always with success. In 1616 Dr. Mocket, the warden, a friend of Abbot’s, had published a book, entitled ‘Politia Ecclesiæ Anglicanæ,’ which claimed, as the king believed, undue authority for the primacy, and showed a want of respect for some of the thirty-nine articles. In spite of Abbot’s protest the book was burnt, and Mocket is said to have died from the shock of the humiliation. The act injured Abbot’s influence at Oxford, and he was unable to restrain disorders at All Souls, which caused him increasing anxiety. In 1623 he severely reprimanded the officers for allowing the students to ‘spend their time in taverns and alehouses, to the defamation of scholars and scandal of your house.’ In 1626 he suspended a fellow for irregular conduct, and in 1633 he wrote two letters (2 Jan. and 25 May) expressing his disapproval of the extravagant expenditure of the authorities. Nearly fifty years later, Archbishop Sancroft attempted to re-enforce Abbot’s rules (Burrows, Worthies of All Souls, pp. 126 et seq.; Martin, Archives of All Souls College, pp. 310–77).
During the last few months of 1632, Abbot’s health, which had been for a long time apparently breaking, seemed to revive; and a friend wrote (30 Sept. 1632) that ‘if any other prelate gape after his benefice, his grace perhaps . . . [may] eat the goose which shall graze upon his grave’ (Harl. MS. 7000, f. 181; Fuller, Church History, ed. Brewer, vi. 44, note). But Abbot’s death followed within the year. A well-known story recorded of his last years shows the bitter trials that beset him to the end. On his return to Croydon shortly before his death he was incommoded by a crowd of women who surrounded his coach, and on his complaining of their presence, the shout was raised: ‘Ye had best shoot an arrow at us.’ The archbishop died at Croydon, 4 Aug. 1633, aged seventy-one. He was buried, as he desired, in Trinity Church, Guildford, and his brother, Sir Maurice Abbot, erected in 1635 an elaborate monument to his memory, which is still standing. By his will he left legacies to the poor of Lambeth and Croydon and to his servants. Besides arranging for the endowment of his hospital, he provided 100l. to be lent to poor tradesmen of Guildford, and urged the mayor to set up some manufacture in the town ‘to find work for the younger sort of people:’ a room in the hospital he assigned as a ‘workhouse’ for the purpose. His friend, Sir Dudley Digges, was not forgotten, and to the Princess Elizabeth, whose marriage he had brought about, and whose husband he had befriended in vain, he bequeathed 200l. The residue of his property he left to his nephews and surviving brothers, Maurice and John. The greater part of his library he gave to his successor at Lambeth, and it practically formed the nucleus of that great collection; some portion was at the same time reserved for the chapterhouses of Winchester and Canterbury. Among his books were found a large number of popish tracts that he had sequestrated, and the Spanish ambassador demanded their surrender to their owners at the close of 1633 (Cal. Clarendon Papers, i. 40). But it was not only at his death that Abbot gave proof of his generosity. He had been throughout his life a benefactor of Oxford, London, and Canterbury, as well as of Guildford. In 1619 he subscribed 100l. to the library of Balliol and to the repair of the college buildings. He contributed largely to the new foundation of Pembroke, which was established finally in 1624, and the first master wrote to the archbishop to express the society’s appreciation of his benevolence. He also sent 100l. to assist in the rebuilding of the Oxford schools, and another 100l. somewhat later (1632) to aid the library of University College. At Canterbury he built a ‘fair conduit,’ which he had determined to give to the town, but a quarrel as to his jurisdiction in the city changed his purpose. To London he gave 200l., in 1622, towards the repair of St. Paul’s and the removal of beggars, and he was always ready to assist private persons in distress.
It was inevitable that very various estimates should be held of Abbot’s character in the seventeenth century. Whitelocke wrote that he left behind him ‘the memory of a pious, learned, and moderate prelate’ (Memorials, 18, ed. 1732; cf. May, Long Parliament, p. 23, ed. 1854). Clarendon attributes to him the downfall of the church in the civil wars, and charges him with fostering religious factions and indifference to ecclesiastical discipline (History, i. 134, ed. 1849). Fuller describes him as a grave man in his conversation and as unblamable in his life, but unduly severe to the clergy in the high commission court (Church History, ed. Brewer, vi. 46). Other writers of the time attribute to him ‘remissness in visitation,’ a charge depending mainly on Laud’s account of the carelessness of his last report of the condition of his diocese. He proved himself, however, conscientious enough at other times in the discharge of the duties of his office, to show that the accusation can only apply to his last days, when he was broken in health and spirit. Of his narrowness of view and unconciliatory tone of mind we have already spoken. His occasional connivance at cruelties that in our eyes admit of no defence put these characteristics in a very repulsive light; but his resistance of unjust authority, his consistency of purpose, and his charitable instincts must be set in the opposite balance.
Besides the works already enumerated, Abbot is credited with having written the account of the persecution of the protestants in the Valteline, which appears in the seventh edition of Foxe’s ‘Acts and Monuments,’ 1631–2, and the ‘Judgment on Bowing at the Name of Jesus,’ published at Hamburg in 1632. He is also said to have shared with Sir Henry Savile the expense of republishing in 1618 Bradwardine’s ‘Cause of God against the Pelagians.’ Abbot drew up biographical accounts (1) of his connection with the Essex divorce case, printed in the ‘State Trials’ (ii. 805–62); (2) of his accident in Bramshill Park, printed, with other documents on the subject, in ‘Reliquiæ Spelmanniæ’ and in the ‘State Trials’ (ii. 1165–9); these papers, although written in the third person, may be confidently attributed to his pen (copies of them in manuscript are among the Tanner MSS. at Oxford); and (3) of his sequestration, printed in Rushworth’s ‘Historical Collections’ (i. 434 et seq.), and reprinted by Mr. Arber (1882) in his ‘English Garner,’ iv. 535–76. Several of his letters remain in manuscript at the Bodleian among the Tanner MSS.
Abbot’s portrait was several times painted, and engravings after Vandergucht and Houbraken are often met with. A portrait was engraved in 1616 by Simon Pass, in oval, with a view of Lambeth in the background, and eight Latin lines beneath (Evans, Cat. of Engraved Portraits, i. 1, ii. 1). A half-length portrait, of uncertain authorship, is in the chapel of Abbot’s hospital at Guildford. There is a gloominess of expression in these pictures which, while confirming the moroseness of disposition usually ascribed to him, is yet tempered, on closer examination, by much natural kindliness.
[The fullest accounts of Abbot’s life are to be found in the Biographia Britannica and in Hook’s Lives of the Archbishops. The former was by William Oldys, and was reprinted at Guildford, in a separate volume by Speaker Onslow, a fellow-townsman of Abbot, in 1777. It is full of references to all printed authorities accessible in the eighteenth century. Hook’s Life (1875) attempts to incorporate with the older biography some more recently discovered information, but is only very partially successful; it is disfigured by many errors as to dates and by want of sympathy with Abbot’s position. Hook gave a less elaborate, but more valuable, account of Abbot in his Ecclesiastical Biography, 1845. By far the best account of Abbot is to be found in Mr. S. R. Gardiner’s sketches of him in his History of England. Original authorities for Abbot’s biography are his own papers and works, referred to above, which should be compared with Laud’s diary and Heylin’s Cyprianus Anglicanus, or the Life of Laud, on the other side. Abbot’s will was printed at Guildford by Onslow in 1777. Hearne’s biographical notice in Rawlinson MS. C. 146, f. 386, and Dr. White Kennet’s biographical notes on Abbot in Lansdowne MS. 984, are of very little value. The Domestic State Papers from 1600 to 1633 are full of references to his public and private life, and contain a vast number of his letters. The Rolls of Parliament; Wood’s Athenæ Oxonienses; Strype’s Annals; Winwood’s Memorials; Rymer’s Fœdera; Hacket’s Life of Williams; and the publications of the Camden, Abbotsford, and Bannatyne Societies concerning the reign of James I throw occasional light on Abbot’s life; Nichols’s Progresses is very useful for his relations with the court. It is important to compare the views taken of him in Clarendon’s History, in Fuller’s Church History, and in Neal’s History of the Puritans.]