Burton, William (d.1616) (DNB00)

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BURTON, WILLIAM (d. 1616), puritan divine, was born at Winchester, but in what year is not known. He was educated at Winchester School and New College, Oxford, of which, after graduating B.A., he was admitted perpetual fellow on 5 April 1563. He left the university in 1565. He was minister at Norwich (he tells us) for ‘fiue yeares,’ presumably the period 1584–9. But he seems to have been in Norwich or the immediate neighbourhood at least as early as 1576, perhaps as assistant in the free school. His name appears in 1583 among the Norfolk divines (over sixty in number) who scrupled subscription to Whitgift's three articles. He has left a very interesting account of the puritan ascendency in Norwich during his time. The leaders of the party were John More, vicar of St. Andrew's (buried on 16 Jan. 1592), and Thomas Roberts, rector of St. Clements (d. 1576). For many years there was daily preaching, attended by the magistrates and over twenty of the city clergy, besides those of the cathedral. It was the custom each day for one or other of the magistrates to keep open house for the clergy, without whose advice ‘no matter was usually concluded’ in the city council. Very interesting also is his account, as an eyewitness, of the burning at Norwich, on 14 Jan. 1589, of Francis Ket [q. v.] as an ‘Arrian heretique.’ Burton bears the strongest testimony to the excellence and apparent godliness of Ket's life and conversation, but glories in his fate, and is quite certain of his damnation. Burton, while rejecting the ceremonies, was firm against separation from the national church; he writes bitterly respecting ‘our English Donatists, our schismaticall Brownists.’ He left Norwich owing to troubles which befell him about some matters of his ministry. In after years it was reported that the civic authorities had driven him away; his enemies wrote to Norwich for copies of records which they expected would tell against him; but it seems that the mayor and council had done their best to retain him. On leaving Norwich he found a friend in Lord Wentworth, as we learn from the dedication prefixed to his ‘Dauid's Euidence,’ &c., 1592, 8vo. Wentworth took him into his house, gave him books, and was the means of his resuming the work of the ministry. Richard Fletcher, bishop of Bristol (consecrated 3 Jan. 1590), gave him some appointment in Bristol, not upon conditions, ‘as some haue vntruely reported.’ Complaints were made about his teaching, whereupon he published his ‘Catechism,’ 1591, which is a very workmanlike presentation of Calvinism. In it he argues against bowing at the name of Jesus, and describes the right way of solemnising ‘the natiuitie of the Sonne of God.’ He subsequently published several sets of sermons which had been delivered in Bristol. He became vicar of St. Giles, Reading, on 25 Nov. 1591. At some unknown date (after 1608) he came to London. He died intestate in the parish of St. Sepulchre, apparently in 1616; whether he held the vicarage or not does not appear; the registers of St. Sepulchre were burned in the great fire of 1666. His age at death must have been upwards of seventy. His wife, Dorothy, survived him; his son Daniel administered to his effects on 17 May 1616.

Of Burton's publications, the earliest written was a single sermon preached at Norwich on 21 Dec. 1589 from Jer. iii. 14, but it was probably not published till later, for he calls his ‘Catechism,’ 1591, 16mo, his ‘first fruites.’ Wood enumerates eight subsequent collections of sermons and seven treatises, including ‘An Abstract of the Doctrine of the Sabbath,’ 1606, 8vo, which has escaped the researches of Robert Cox. The little volume of ‘seauen sermons,’ bearing the title ‘Dauids Evidence,’ above referred to, was reprinted in 1596, 16mo, and in 1602, 4to. Burton translated seven dialogues of Erasmus, published to prove ‘how little cause the papists haue to boast of Erasmus, as a man of their side.’ This was issued in 1606, sm. 4to; some copies have the title ‘Seven dialogves Both pithie and profitable,’ &c., others bear the title ‘Utile-Dulce: or, Trueths Libertie. Seuen wittie-wise Dialogues,’ &c.; but the two issues (both dated 1606) correspond in every respect except the title-pages.

[Burton's dedications in Catechism, 1591, Dauids Euidence, 1596, and Seven Dialogues, 1606; Blomefield's Norfolk, vol. ii. 1745 (Norwich); Wood's Athenæ Oxon. (Bliss), ii. 1; Brook's Lives of the Puritans, 1813, ii. 230; Christian Moderator, 1826, p. 37; Leversage's Hist. of Bristol Cathedral, 1853, 66.]

A. G.