Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Bancroft, John (1574-1640)

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BANCROFT, JOHN, D.D. (1574–1640), the seventh bishop of Oxford, was born in 1574 at Asthall, a village between Burford and Witney, in Oxfordshire. He was the son of Christopher, brother to Archbishop Bancroft ; and his paternal grandmother was a niece of Hugh Curwen, second bishop of Oxford [q. v.]. He was educated at Westminster School, where, under the mastership of Edward Grant, 'the most noted Latinist and Grecian of his time,' he remained till 1592. He was elected to a Westminster studentship at Christ Church, Oxford, in that year, and took the degree of B.A. in 1596, and of M.A. in 1599. For some time after graduating he is known to have preached in and about Oxford, and before quitting Christ Church to have acted as tutor to Robert Burton, 'Democritus Junior,' the author of the 'Anatomy of Melancholy.' In 1601 he was presented by his uncle, at that time bishop of London, to the rectory of Finchley, Middlesex, vacant by the death of Richard Latewar, who, while in attendance on Lord Mountjoy as his chaplain, was killed in a battle with Irish rebels at Carlingford. This living Bancroft retained till 1608.

On the occasion of a visit of King James I to Christ Church in 1605, he composed a Latin poem, which was printed with others in 'Musa Hospitalis.' In 1607 he took his B.D. degree. In 1608 he was presented by his uncle, who had become archbishop of Canterbury, to the living of Orpington in Kent, and in the following year to that of Biddenden, in the same county, both of which, being sinecures, he continued to hold later in commendam with his bishopric. The rectory of Woodchurch, Kent, he resigned in 1633. In 1609 he obtained the degree of D.D., and was presented with the prebend of Maplesbury, St. Paul's, on the resignation of Dr. Samuel Harsnett. On 2 March 1609-10 he was elected master of University College, Oxford. For a period of twenty-three years he discharged the duties of this office with I considerable administrative ability, settling on a firm basis the rights of the college to its various landed estates. He had an aptitude for affairs of this nature, as was seen later in the part he took in giving effect to Laud's benefactions to St. John's College, and more strikingly in his erection of the palace at Cuddesdon, soon after his elevation to the episcopal bench. It might be said of him with truth that he was made rather for a good steward than for a great ecclesiastic. In 1629, however, he was chosen one of the delegates to revise the university statutes. Though sharing the high church opinions of his uncle, the primate, who died in 1610, and of his friend Laud, Bancroft took no prominent part in the controversies between high churchmen and puritans that raged in Oxford while he was presiding over University College. Bancroft's mastership of University College terminated on 23 Aug. 1632, on his appointment to the bishopric of Oxford. Severe language is used concerning his conduct as a bishop, in the charge drawn up by Prynne against Laud, who, when bishop of London, had procured Bancroft's elevation to the episcopal bench; 'and what a corrupt, unpreaching popish prelate Bancroft was, is known to all the university of Oxford' (Prynne, Canterburie's Doom, fol. 1646, p. 353).

The work which has most contributed to preserve the memory of this bishop was the building of a residence for himself and his successors at Cuddesdon, seven miles south-east of Oxford. Gloucester Hall, which had originally been assigned as a residence for bishops of this diocese, was resumed by the crown in the time of Edward VI, and the holders of the see had since been compelled to lodge in private houses. Bancroft, finding soon after his elevation that the vicarage of Cuddesdon was vacant and in his gift, collated himself to it, and with the assistance of Laud procured its annexation in perpetuity to the bishopric by royal warrant. He at the same time obtained a grant of timber from the royal forest of Shotover, also by Laud's influence, and an annual rent-charge of 100l. secured on the forests of Shotover and Stowood. He built the new palace, a commodious rather than splendid mansion, which was completed with its chapel in 1635, at the then large cost of 3,500l. In 1636 Bancroft assisted at the reception of Charles I at Oxford, and gave a grand entertainment in his new palace. When Oxford became the fortified residence of Charles I during the civil war, Colonel William Legg, the governor of Oxford, fearing the palace might be used as a garrison for the parliamentary forces, had it burned down, though with as much reason and more piety, observes Dr. Heylin (Life of Laud, p. 190), he might have garrisoned it for the king, and preserved the house. The ruins remained untouched till Bishop Fell rebuilt the palace and chapel at his own cost in 1679. Wood thus describes Bancroft's end: 'In 1640, when the Long parliament began and proceeded with great vigour against the bishops, he was possessed so much with fear (having always been an enemy to the puritan), that, with little or no sickness, he surrendered up his last breath in his lodgings at Westminster. His body was conveyed to Cuddesdon, and there buried in the church, Feb. 12, 1640-41.' His arms are in a window in University College, and his portrait, with a draft of the new Cuddesdon palace in the right hand, hangs in the college hall. There is also a half-length portrait of him in his episcopal robes in the hall of Christ Church.

[Welch's List of Westminster Scholars, 63-4; Wood's Athenæ Oxon. (Bliss), ii. 893-5; Fuller's Church Hist.iii. 369; Lysons's Environs (Finchley); Kippis's Biogr. Brit. i. 469-70.]

R. H.

Dictionary of National Biography, Errata (1904), p.14
N.B.— f.e. stands for from end and l.l. for last line

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107 ii 30, 31 Bancroft, John: for the resignation of Dr. Samuel Harsnett read the promotion of Dr. Samuel Harsnett to the see of Chichester.