Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Compton, Henry (1632-1713)
COMPTON, HENRY (1632–1713), bishop of London, born at Compton Wynyates, Warwickshire, in 1632, was the sixth and youngest son of Spencer Compton [q. v.], second earl of Northampton, by his wife Mary, daughter of Sir Francis Beaumont. His father was killed at Hopton Heath in 1643, and he himself told James II in 1688 that he had 'formerly drawn his sword in defence of the constitution,' which would imply that as a youth he took some part in the civil wars. He entered Queen's College, Oxford, as a nobleman in 1649, and remained in residence till 1652. After a short time spent in retirement with his mother at Grendon, Northamptonshire, he subsequently travelled abroad, visiting Italy, studying the civil and ecclesiastical constitutions of foreign countries, and, according to a common rumour, 'trailing a pike' at one time under the Duke of York in Flanders. He did not return to England until the Restoration, when he received a cornet's commission in the royal horse guards under the command of Aubrey de Vere, earl of Oxford. Although he never seems to have altogether divested himself of a military bearing, the profession of a soldier proved distasteful to him after a few months' trial, and he determined to transfer himself to the service of the church. He went to Cambridge, where he was admitted M.A. in 1661 ; in the following year took holy orders ; early in 1666 entered Christ Church, Oxford, as a canon commoner by the advice of Dean Fell ; on 7 April was incorporated M.A. of Oxford ; became rector of Cottenham, Cambridgeshire ; and was granted a reversion to the next vacant canonry at Christ Church. In 1667 he was appointed master of the hospital of St. Cross at Winchester ; on 24 May 1669 was installed canon of Christ Church on the death of Dr. Richard Heylin ; and proceeded B.D. (26 May) and D.D. (28 June) in the same year. On 11 July following Compton was ' inceptor in theology ' at the first ' commemoration ' held in the new Sheldonian theatre, and on 17 April 1673 Evelyn heard him preach at court. ' This worthy person's talent,' the diarist added, ' is not preaching, but he is like to make a grave and serious good man.' On 6 Dec. 1674 Compton was consecrated bishop of Oxford at Lambeth, in July 1675 became dean of the Chapel Royal, and in December of the same year was translated to the see of London. His rapid promotion was attributed by some to his bold avowal of hostility to the papists, and by others to the influence of his intimate friend, the Earl of Danby. His high birth will probably account for much. Almost his first act as bishop of London was to confiscate the writings of Joannes Lyserus, a renowned champion of polygamy, and to insist on the author's expulsion from the country (February 1675-6). On 22 Jan. 1675-6 Compton was sworn of the privy council, and he was reinstated in the position on the creation of the new privy council in April 1679. On the death of Archbishop Sheldon in 1677 Danby was popularly credited with endeavouring to secure the archbishopric for Compton; but on this, as on two other occasions, the dignity was peremptorily denied him. The bishop's ' forwardness in persecuting the Roman catholics ' earned for him the distrust of James, duke of York, and this was stated at the time to be the cause of Compton's neglect. The compiler of James II's ' Memoirs ' argues that it was due to the fact that Compton ' was married and his wife alive.' It is usually stated that Compton never married, and the contrary assertion is unconfirmed.
Compton exercised much personal influence at Charles II's court. The religious education of the king's nieces, the Princesses Mary and Anne, daughters of James, duke of York, was entrusted to him, and he carefully indoctrinated them in protestant principles. He thus acquired large powers in James's household, and in November 1677 compelled the duke to dismiss his wife's Roman catholic secretary, Edward Coleman [q. v.], on account of his alleged proselytising activity. Nevertheless Compton consistently opposed the Exclusion Bill. The bishop confirmed his royal pupils on 23 Jan. 1675-6, and performed the marriage ceremony when Princess Mary married William of Orange (4 Nov. 1677), and when Princess Anne married Prince George of Denmark (28 July 1683). The two princesses, each of whom was in turn queen of England, always regarded Compton with affection. Compton christened Charlotte Mary, daughter of the Duke of York (15 Aug. 1682) ; Charles (afterwards second duke of Grafton), Charles II's grandson (30 Oct. 1683), and Mary, daughter of Princess Anne of Denmark (1 June 1685).
From 1678 onwards Compton held frequent, conferences with the clergy of his diocese, in which the practices and doctrines of the established church were fully discussed. He embodied his own addresses in a ' Letter to the Clergy ' (London, 25 April 1679), maintaining-
the Anglican position with regard to baptism, the Lord's supper, and the catechising of young persons ; and in a ' Second Letter to the Clergy of the Diocese of London concerning (1) The Half Communion, (2) Prayers in an Unknown Tongue, (3) Prayers to the Saints' (London, 6 July 1680). Other letters followed, the last being dated April 1685. A collected edition appeared under the title of ' Episcopalia ' in 1686. By such means Compton thought to minimise the points of difference between himself and the protestant dissenters at the same time as he held Roman Catholicism in check. With a like aim he corresponded with many French protestants, and elicited some independent opinion in favour of the reunion of the dissenters with the establishment. M. le Moyne, professor at Leyden, M. de 1'Angle, preacher at Charenton, and M. Claude vindicated the Anglican church in letters to Compton, and these were published in the appendix to Stillingfleet's 'Unreasonableness of Separation' in 1681. In that year Compton set on foot subscription lists for the relief of persecuted French protestants. His conciliatory attitude to the protestant dissenters was, however, not very popular. The half-crazy rector of All Saints, Colchester, Edmund Hickeringill [q. v.], who, although a beneficed clergyman, was bitterly opposed to episcopacy, attacked Compton from the dissenting point of view so scurrilously that the bishop deemed it prudent to proceed against him for libel at the Colchester assizes (8 March 1681-2), and the defendant was ordered to pay 2,000l. ; but the fine was remitted (27 Jan. 1684) on his publicly confessing his offence in the court of the dean of arches. A friend of Hickeringill (Sol. Shawe) published a full account of the whole proceedings in 1682 under the title of 'Scandalum Magnatum, or the Great Trial at Chelmsford Assizes,' in which Compton was very harshly used. The quarrel was renewed in 1705, when Compton cited Hickeringill again before the ecclesiastical courts for writing a pamphlet called 'The Vileness of the Earth.' Luttrell reports that on 10 Jan. 1682-3 a cry was raised by some over-zealous Anglicans for the suspension of Compton on account of his friendliness to the dissenters. In July 1684 Compton consecrated the new church of St. James's, Piccadilly, London. He was at Charles II's deathbed, but the dying king made no remark when the bishop offered him consolation, which 'was imputed partly to the bishop's cold way of speaking, and partly to the ill opinion they had of him at court as too busy in opposition to popery' (Burnet). Nevertheless, at the close of the reign Compton was held 'in great credit and esteem' by the majority of the clergy and laity of the diocese (Hearne).
The accession of James II altered his position, and an attitude of open hostility to the government was soon forced upon him. In a debate in the House of Lords on the king's claim to dispense with the Test Act (18 Nov. 1685) he boldly declared that the civil and ecclesiastical constitution of the kingdom was in danger, and asserted that he spoke in the name of the whole bench of bishops. Parliament was prorogued next day ; Compton was dismissed from the privy council, and on 16 Dec. 1685 he ceased to be dean of the Chapel Royal. On 5 March in the following year James II sent letters to the Archbishops of Canterbury and York, prohibiting controversial sermons. A well-known clergyman in Compton's diocese, Dr. John Sharp, dean of Norwich and rector of St. Giles's-in-the-Fields (afterwards archbishop of York), replied in June to the new orders by a vigorous attack from the pulpit on Roman Catholicism. Compton was thereupon directed to 'suspend Dr. Sharp from further preaching in any parish church or chapel within his diocese until he had given the king satisfaction.' As far as he conscientiously could, Compton appears to have avoided a personal conflict with the crown. He humbly represented to the king (in a letter to the Earl of Sunderland) that Dr. Sharp had offended against no law of the land, and privately requested Sharp to abstain from preaching for the present ; but declined to inhibit him. This failed to satisfy James. Compton's contumacy was made the occasion of reviving the old high court of ecclesiastical commission, and on 11 Aug. the bishop was cited before the tribunal to answer a charge of disobeying the royal command. Lord-chancellor Jeffreys presided, and bluntly refused Compton's request for a copy of the directions given to the commissioners and of the accusations brought against him. 'I demand of you,' said Jeffreys, 'a direct and positive answer. Why did you not suspend Dr. Sharp ? . . . The question is a plain one. Why did you disobey the king ?' An application to consult counsel was allowed ; a week's adjournment was granted, and this was subsequently extended for another fortnight. On 31 Aug. Compton denied the court's competency, and declared that ' as a bishop he had a right to be tried before his metropolitan precedently to any other court whatsoever ; ' but this plea was peremptorily overruled and no discussion upon it permitted. The registrar of the court read out the bishop's statement of the action he took on receiving the king's order; his counsel, Dr. Oldys,Dr. Hodges, Dr. Price, and Dr. Newton, advanced some purely legal objections to the court's procedure, and the proceedings closed. On 6 Sept. the commissioners pronounced sentence of suspension from the exercise of all episcopal functions. Three of the six commissioners, Lord Rochester, Lord-chief-justice Herbert, and Bishop Sprat of Rochester, were ready to acquit Compton, but the king's personal influence induced Rochester to change his mind, and thus a majority was formed in favour of Compton s conviction. Two of the commissioners, Bishops Sprat of Rochester and Crewe of Durham, together with Thomas White, bishop of Peterborough, were appointed to administer Compton's see. His revenues were left untouched. The temporalities of a see were, according to the common law, the bishop's freehold ; Compton had the right to demand protection of his interest in them from the king's bench, and the attitude of Lord-chief-justice Herbert made it obvious to the government that the common law courts would not sanction a sequestration. Popular opinion, too, ran high in Compton's favour. 'This was thought,' writes Evelyn, 'a very extraordinary way of proceeding, and was universally resented.' The Prince of Orange at once expressed his sympathy with the bishop, and his wife not only wrote to Compton in the same sense, but appealed to her father, James II, in his behalf. James replied by warning his daughter against interference in matters of state. A full account in Dutch of the proceedings was circulated in Holland before the end of 1686.
Compton retired to Fulham and threw himself with ardour into his favourite botanical pursuits. But he was not inclined to submit in silence to his indignities, and on 20 March 1686-7 petitioned for the restitution of his see. He was informed that his request was referred to the ecclesiastical commission, and he heard no more of it. As one of the governors of the Charterhouse he refused, during his inhibition, to admit a papist named Andrew Popham as pensioner. Under date 10 Dec. 1686 he addressed a letter to his clergy severely criticising the order about controversial preaching issued in the former year, but suggesting a moderate course of action. He had already stated his views on the topic at a conference with his clergy held just before his suspension, and his address was published in 1690 and reissued in 1710. 'His clergy,' according to Burnet, 'for all the suspension, were really more governed by the secret intimations of his pleasure than they had been by his authority before.' When Dykvelt, the Prince of Orange's agent, arrived in England (1687), Compton willingly put himself into communication with him, and soon undertook in the prince's behalf to manage the clergy whenever a constitutional crisis should arise. He was at Lambeth on 18 May 1688, when Archbishop Sancroft and the six bishops resolved to refuse to allow the Declaration of Indulgence to be read in the churches. In June, Danby suggested to Compton to join the revolutionary committee which was then in active correspondence with William of Orange, and he was thenceforth regularly in attendance at the meetings held at the Earl of Shrewsbury's house. On 30 June he was one of the seven, and the only bishop, who signed the invitation to William to occupy the English throne. In the declaration which William issued forthwith, the seventh article dealt with the persecution to which Compton had been subjected. On 28 Sept. James II reversed his suspension, but the time for conciliation was passed. On 3 Oct. Compton waited on James Avith other ecclesiastics and protested against the proceedings at Magdalen College, Oxford, the maintenance of the high commission court, and the continued vacancy of the archbishopric of York. On 2 Nov. he was summoned to a private interview with the king, and was questioned as to his knowledge of the invitation to William, but he equivocated and gave James no information. Four days later he again appeared before James with other bishops and maintained the same attitude. On 16 Nov. the king directed Compton to collect money to relieve the poor of his diocese. Early in the next month he was in frequent communication with his old pupil, Princess Anne, who was residing at Whitehall, and, in order to detach her from her father and her father's fortunes, readily agreed to assist in her secret flight from London. With the Earl of Dorset he conveyed her in a carriage to his official residence, London House in Aldersgate Street, and thence with forty horsemen rode with her to Nottingham. There the Earl of Devonshire offered her an escort of two hundred volunteers, and Compton readily accepted the offer of the colonelcy of the regiment. In full military costume he marched at the head of his little army to Oxford, where he made his appearance, to the consternation of the inhabitants, 'in a blue coat and naked sword,' preceded by a standard bearing the motto ' Nolumus leges Angliæ mutari' (Burnet; Hearne; Duchess of Marlborough, Account, 16-18; Hickes, Memoir of Kettlewell, 52). But James's flight rendered active hostilities needless. On 21 Dec. Compton waited on William at St. James's Palace with his clergy, and was promised full protection. On 30 Dec. he administered the sacrament to the new ruler. On 31 Jan. 1688-9 he ordered the clergy to omit prayers for the Prince of Wales, and only to mention the king (without naming him) and all the royal family. On 29 Jan., when the House of Lords in grand committee debated whether, 'the throne being vacant, a regent or a king should fill it,' Compton and Trelawny of Bristol were the only bishops who voted with the majority for a king. Compton was reinstated as a privy councillor and dean of chapel royal on 14 Feb. ; on 31 March he consecrated Burnet bishop of Salisbury, and on 11 April crowned the king and queen at Westminster. In August, Sancroft, who declined to recognise William III, was suspended, and in the following February he was deprived. The primacy was thus vacant, and Compton, as one of the commissioners appointed to exercise its functions, had vast responsibility thrown upon him. On 20 Nov. he was chosen president of the upper house of convocation, and helped to revise the liturgy. He was afterwards appointed a commissioner of trade and plantations chiefly to superintend the colonial churches.
In the debate on the question of administering an oath abjuring James II, in 1690, Compton spoke at great length, and amused the house by stating that although there were obvious objections to multiplying oaths, 'he did not speak for himself : there was not nor could be made an oath to the present government that he would not take.' In 1691, when the Toleration and Comprehension Bills were before parliament, Compton enthusiastically supported them. 'These are two great works,' he wrote to Sancroft, who had shut himself up at Lambeth, 'in which the being of our church is concerned' (Tanner MS. xxvii. f. 41, printed in Notes and Queries, 2nd ser. i. 90-1). In January 1690-1 he attended William III, at his own expense, at the congress which met at the Hague to consolidate an alliance against France. The appointment of Tillotson to the primacy in August 1691 disappointed Compton, and in 1695 he was again overlooked, when Tenison succeeded Tillotson. This neglect soured him ; he gradually alienated himself from the whigs, and in the closing years of his life acted with the tories. On the death of Queen Mary in 1694 he presented the king with an address of condolence, and on 6 Dec. 1697 he preached the sermon at St. Paul's on thanksgiving day. In 1699 he was the only bishop who resisted the parliamentary motion to deprive Thomas Watson of the bishopric of St. David's for simony.
At the opening of Anne's reign the queen showed Compton much attention, and 'the bishop always supported those measures which were most agreeable to her majesty's own inclination and principles' (Birch, Life of Tillotson). She made him lord almoner in the place of the Bishop of Worcester, in November 1702, and in the following January ordered the Bishop of Salisbury's lodgings at St. James's to be handed over to him. He was in the commission for the union of Scotland in 1704, but was not reappointed when the commission was reorganised in April 1706. He was reappointed permanent commissioner of trades and plantations in January 1704-5, at a salary of 1,000l. a year. Compton supported the bill against occasional conformity, and spoke in favour of the motion that the church was in danger in 1705. In 1706 he apologised to the church of Geneva for some reflections cast upon it at Oxford, aided Sacheverell by speech and A r ote in 1710, and welcomed the change of ministry which took place in that year. He explained this decisive avowal of toryism in a letter to his clergy, but his abandonment of his former political attitude called forth a clever pamphlet, in which quotations from his early publications were relied upon to convict him of the grossest inconsistency ('A Letter concerning Allegiance, 1710,'reprinted in Somers Tracts, xii. 322 et seq.) In his later years Compton suffered from the gout and stone. Early in 1711 he was dangerously ill. He died at Fulham on 7 July 1713, aged 81, and was buried on 15 July outside Fulham Church, in accordance with his special direction. Dr. Thomas Gooch preached a funeral sermon at St. Paul's Cathedral on 26 July 1713. His charities and his hospitality were there especially commended. He spent all his fortune in helping Irish protestants, Scottish episcopalians, and refugees who fled to England from the persecution of foreign countries. He paid for the education of poor children, and among his proteges was George Psalmanazar [q. v.], the literary impostor, whom he sent to Oxford and treated with invariable kindness (Psalmanazar, Memoirs, 1764, pp. 179, 187, et seq.) Compton liberally contributed to funds for rebuilding churches and hospitals, and vigorously promoted Queen Anne's Bounty Fund. His benevolence greatly diminished his private fortune, and he died a poor man.
Compton translated the 'Life of Donna Olympia Maldachini' from the Italian, 1667, the 'Jesuits' Intrigues 'from the French, and 'Treatise of the Holy Communion,' 1677, from André Lortie's 'Traité de la Sainte Cène,' pt. i. (Notes and Queries, 5th ser. x. 85). Besides the letters issued to the clergy of London under the title of 'Episcopalia' (1686 and republished in 1706, and with an introduction by S. W. Cornish in 1842), Compton published his charges in 1694, 1696, and 1701. He also drew up a prayer-book for Christ's Hospital (1705). Three letters addressed by Compton to Strype are printed from Cole's MS. (lii. 479-85) in the Camden Society's 'Letters of Eminent Literary Men,' 190-2; the first, dated 21 Feb. 1684-5, communicates the form of an address for the London clergy to present to James II on his accession; the second, dated January 1689, bids the clergy to lay before the people the blessings of the revolution; and the third, dated 20 Nov. 1701, strongly recommends to the electors of Essex two ardent protestant candidates, Sir Charles Barrington and Mr. Bullock. Others of Compton's letters are printed in Macpherson's 'Original Papers' and in Dalrymple's 'Memoirs.'
Compton has some claim to rank as a botanist. He planted his grounds at Fulham with 'a greater variety of curious exotic plants and trees than had at the time been collected in any garden in England' (Watson). John Ray, in his 'History of Plants' (1688), chap, xi., describes fifteen rare plants from Compton's specimens; and Plukenet, Petiver, Hermann, and Commelin all acknowledged Compton's assistance in botanical investigation. Petiver engraved many specimens from Fulham, and quotes in his ' Museum ' from a book in his possession which he calls ' Codex Comptoniensis.' In 1761 Sir William Watson published in the 'Philosophical Transactions,' xlvii. 241-7, an account of Compton's garden, and describes thirty-three of his exotics. Compton obtained most of his rare plants from correspondents in North America (Pulteney, Botanical Sketches, ii. 105-7, 302).
Burnet always writes of Compton as a weak man and easily influenced by others. 'His preaching,' he says, 'was without much life or learning, for he had not gone through his studies with that exactness which was fitting.' Hearne and Evelyn were of the same opinion. James II complained that his military training unfitted him for the clerical profession, and that ' he talked more like a colonel than a bishop.' He was not a great prelate. He was always ambitious of preferment, and disappointments on this score were capable of influencing his political partisanship. His protestant zeal proved at a great crisis superior to his private interests, but neither the tolerance he displayed in his dealings with protestant dissenters nor his practical benevolence ever quite concealed his defects of temper and intellect.
Four engraved portraits of Compton are known. One by D. Loggan is dated 1679, and another, after Hargrave, by J. Simon, appeared in 1710. A third portrait by Eiley was engraved by Becket.
[An anonymous (and fairly complete) life [? by N. Salmon] was published shortly after Compton's death in 1713. Gooch's funeral sermon (1713), together with another by John Cockburn, D.D., preached at St. Martin's-in-the-Fields 19 July 1713, and a third by William Whitfield, preached at St. Martin's, Ludgate, 11 Aug. 1713, adds few details. Many pamphlets recording the proceedings of 1687 were published in that and the succeeding years. See also Wood's Athenæ Oxon. (Bliss); Le Neve's Fasti (Hardy); Kennet's Complete Hist.; Biog. Brit. (Kippis); Dalrymple's Memoirs; Macpherson's Papers; James II's Memoirs; Boyer's Queen Anne; Hickes's Memoirs of John Kettlewell, 1718; Lake's Diary in Camden Soc. Miscellany, vol. i.; Luttrell's Relation; Evelyn's Diary; Birch's Life of Tillotson; Hearne's Hist. Collections; Burnet's Own Times; Macaulay's Hist.; Ranke's Hist.; Granger's Biog. Hist.; Bromley's Cat. of Portraits; Brit. Mus. Cat.]