Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Babington, Gervase
BABINGTON, GERVASE (1550–1610), bishop in succession of Llandaff, Exeter, and Worcester, is described in his 'Effigies before his Works' (published posthumously in 1615) as aged fifty-nine; and assuming this to have been his age at death (in 1610), the date of his birth has been set down as 1551, though doubts are raised by Dr. Berkenhout (Kippis's Biogr. Brit. i. '413). From the 'Reg. Bancroft' (as cited in Le Neve's Fasti, by Hardy, iii. 66) we learn that his age at death was sixty, and thus 1549 or 1550 was the date of his birth. Fuller (in his Abel Redivivus, 1651, and Church History, 1655) states that he was of Nottinghamshire, while Izacke ('Catal. of Bishops of Exeter, in Antiq. of Exeter), and after him Prince (Worthies of Devon) claim him for Devonshire. Sir William Musgrave's ' MS. Memoranda ' (Kippis, as before) confirm Fuller, and connect him with the ancient family of the Babingtons of Nottinghamshire [see Babington, Anthony]. Of his early education nothing has been transmitted. He was first sent to Cambridge University, being entered at Trinity College, of which he became fellow (Preface to his Questions and Answers to the Ten Commandments). As was not infrequent, he passed to Oxford University, where, on 15 July 1578, he was incorporated M.A. (Wood's Fasti, ed. Bliss, i. 211). He returned to Cambridge, and became known as a 'hard student' of theology. In the dedicatory epistle to his collected works (published in 1615), addressed to the brothers William earl of Pembroke and Philip earl of Montgomery, it is told how their father had received Babington at his house as tutor to the family, having been 'sent thither by the ancients and heads of the said university.' And mention is made of the intimate relations in which he stood to their mother,
He was credited with having assisted her in her versification of the Psalms, but on shadowy grounds: 'For it was more than a woman's skill to express the sense so rightly as she hath done in her verse, and more than she could learn from the English and Latin translations' (Kippis, as before, i. 412). Ballard gravely controverts the allegation, which originated with Sir John Harington (Brief View, 1653, and Ballard's Memoirs of British Ladies).
By his patron's influence he was appointed treasurer of Llandaff, collated 28 Jan. 1589-90 (Le Neve's Fasti, ii. 262). He had previously, in 1588, obtained the prebendary of Wellington in Hereford Cathedral (ibid. i. 531). By the same influence he was elected bishop of Llandaff 7 Aug. 1591, confirmed on the 27th, and consecrated at Croydon on the 29th (Rey. Whity. i. fol. 77, and Le Neve). Four years later he was translated to the see of Exeter, elected 4 Feb. 1594-5, and enthroned 22 March (ibid.) He is severely condemned for having alienated from this bishopric 'the rich and noble manor of Crediton, in the county of Devon,' which Prince pronounces 'an irreparable injury.' Finally, he was nominated by the queen to Worcester, on 30 Aug. 1597, elected 15 Sept., and confirmed 4 Oct. (ibid.) Among other subsidiary offices held by him was that of queen's counsel for the Marches of Wales (Fuller). Early in 1600 Babington was believed to favour the Earl of Essex. On 5 March 1599- 1600 Chamberlain wrote to Carleton that Queen Elizabeth had called him to account while he was preaching a sermon before her, because of the hints he made in behalf of the earl. In 1604 Babington was summoned to the Hampton Court conference. He died 17 May 1610, and was buried in his cathedral.
Before and after his advances in the church Babington was a constant preacher and a laborious student. Lovers of Elizabethan literature contend eagerly for copies of his many little quartos, some of the rarest of which are to be found in the British Museum. In 1583 he issued his 'Very fruitful exposition of the commandements by way of questions and answers,' which was republished in 1590, and again about 1600. A similar work on the Lord's Prayer was issued in 1588. In 1584 appeared his 'Briefe conference betwixt man's frailtie and faith wherein is declared the true use and comfort of those blessings pronounced by Christ in the fifth of Matthew . . . . Laide downe in order of dialogue.' This was republished in 1590 and again in 1596. In 1592 the first edition was published of 'Certaine, plaine, briefe, and comfortable notes upon everie chapter of Genesis,' of which an enlarged edition appeared in 1596 and 1602. In 1604 he issued his 'Comfortable notes upon the bookes of Exodus and Leviticus.' Several sermons preached at St. Paul's Cross by Babington were also published. The great folio of his works (edited by Miles Smith, afterwards bishop, and T. C), having been issued originally in 1615, was republished in 1622 and 1637. The volume consists of Babington's 'Comfortable Notes upon the Five Books of Moses, also an exposition upon the Creed, the Commandments, the Lord's Prayer, with a conference betwixt man's frailtie and faith, and three sermons,' &c. Throughout his multiplied divisions are scholastic and complicated; his reading extensive and varied. He was well acquainted with Hebrew and Greek, and his style is quaint and pleasant. Some passages from Babington's treatise on the commandments, in which the vices of his age are forcibly exposed and attacked, are reprinted in the New Shakspere Society's edition of Stubbes's 'Anatomy of Abuses,' pt. i. pp. 75-93. A sermon preached by Babington in 1590, and published in his 'Works,' was reprinted by Sir Richard Hill as an appendix to his 'Apology for Brotherly Love,' in 1798,[In addition to authorities quoted, see Willis's Survey of the Cathedrals, 1727; Godwin de Praesul., 1616; Hooker's Catalogue of the Bishops of Exeter; Strype's Whitgift; Berkenhout's Biogr. Literaria, i. 244-5; Cal. State Papers (Dom.), 1595, 1600, 1608.]