Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Dering, Edward (1598-1644)
DERING, Sir EDWARD (1598–1644), antiquary and politician, was the eldest son of Sir Anthony Dering of Surrenden, Kent. His mother, Sir Anthony's second wife, was Frances, daughter of Chief Baron Robert Bell (d. 1577) [q. v.] He was born in the Tower of London on 28 Jan. 1598, his father being the deputy-lieutenant. He was educated at Magdalene College, Cambridge. After leaving the university he devoted himself to antiquarian studies and to the collection of manuscripts. On 22 Jan. 1619 he was knighted, and in November in the same year married Elizabeth, daughter of Sir Nicholas Tufton, who died on 24 Jan. 1622. He subsequently married Anne, daughter of Sir John Ashburnham. Lady Ashburnham, his new mother-in-law, being of the Beaumont family, was a connection of the favourite Buckingham. Through her he strove for court favour, and was created a baronet on 1 Feb. 1627. Buckingham's assassination in 1628 cut short his efforts in that direction. He lost his second wife in the same year that he lost his patron.
On 20 Nov. in the year of his wife's death Dering became one of the many suitors of a rich city widow, Mrs. Bennett, and kept a curious journal of his efforts to win her, especially of the bribes which he administered to the lady's servants. Mrs. Bennett, however, married Sir Heneage Finch on 16 April 1629, and shortly afterwards Dering married his third wife, Unton, daughter of Sir Ralph Gibbs, his ‘ever dear Numps,’ as he calls her in the letters which he addressed to her. He had lately been appointed lieutenant of Dover Castle, an office for which he paid the late holder of the post, and which brought him in much less than he expected. When he at last managed to be quit of it, he was able to devote himself more freely to the antiquarian pursuits at which he was most at home.
Antiquarian studies could in the days of Laud's power hardly fail to connect themselves with reflections on the existing state of the church. Dering was one of a numerous class which was distinctly protestant without being puritan. Since his father's death in 1636 he was the influential owner of the family property. He had been M.P. for Hythe in 1625, and represented Kent in the Long parliament, where he took an active part in all measures of church reform, and became chairman of the committee on religion. On 13 Jan. 1641, having had a petition from two thousand five hundred of his constituents sent to him for presentation, in which the government of archbishops, &c., was complained of, and the House of Commons asked ‘that the said government, with all its dependencies, root and branch, may be abolished,’ he altered the petition, and made it ask ‘that this hierarchical power may be totally abrogated,’ so as to avoid committing himself to an approval of divine-right presbyterianism. During Strafford's trial he took the popular side, and wrote to his wife how he heard people say ‘God bless your worship’ as he passed.
On 27 May Dering moved the first reading of the Root and Branch Bill, which is said to have been drawn up by St. John, apparently not because he thoroughly sympathised with its prayer, but because he thought its introduction would terrify the lords into passing a bill for the exclusion of bishops from their seats in parliament which was then before them. Dering's real sentiments were disclosed when the bill was in committee, when he argued in defence of primitive episcopacy, that is to say, of a plan for insuring that bishops should do nothing without the concurrence of their clergy. It was a plan which appealed strongly to students of antiquity; but it is no wonder that he was now treated by the more thoroughgoing opponents of episcopacy as a man who could no longer be trusted.
In the debate on 12 Oct. on the second Bishops Exclusion Bill, Dering proposed that a national synod should be called to remove the distractions of the church. In the discussion on the Grand Remonstrance he assailed the doctrine that bishops had brought popery and idolatry into the church, and he subsequently defended the retention of bishops on on the ground that, if the prizes of the lottery were taken away, few would care to acquire learning. By his final vote on the Grand Remonstrance he threw in his lot with the episcopal royalist party. It was the vote, not of a statesman, but of a student, anxious to find some middle term between the rule of Laud and the rule of a Scottish presbytery, and attacking the party which at any moment seemed likely to acquire undue predominance.
Such a man is prone to overestimate the amount of consistency which lies at the bottom of almost all changes of opinion honestly made. He prepared for publication an edition of his speeches with explanatory comments of his own. On 4 Feb. the House of Commons ordered the book to be burnt and himself to be sent to the Tower. He remained a prisoner till the 11th.
Dering's imprisonment probably threw him more decidedly on the king's side than he had intended. On 25 March he took a leading part at the Maidstone assizes in getting up a petition from the grand jury in favour of episcopacy and the prayer-book. On this he was impeached by the commons, but he contrived to escape, and at the opening of the civil war raised a regiment of cavalry for the king.
Dering was even less a soldier than he was a statesman. He was in bad health, and the talk of the camp probably disgusted him. Even before the battle of Edgehill he inquired on what terms he might be allowed to submit to parliament. Nothing came of the negotiation, but before the opening of the campaign of 1643 he threw up his commission. It is said that he asked the king in vain to give him the deanery of Canterbury. Every month that passed must have made his position at Oxford more painful. Not only had primitive episcopacy vanished, but Charles in September made a cessation with the confederate catholics of Ireland, and negotiations were subsequently opened with the object of bringing Irish catholic soldiers into England. On 30 Jan. 1644 parliament issued a declaration offering pardon to those who had taken up arms against them if they would take the covenant and pay a composition for the restoration of their sequestered estates. Dering was the first to accept the terms, and he had leave to go home. The composition was settled at 1,000l. on 27 July; but Dering, who had been kept out of his property till his payment had been arranged, was already beyond parliamentary jurisdiction. He died on 22 June, having suffered much from poverty after his return. His position at the end of his life may be best illustrated from a ‘Discourse on Sacrifice’ which was published by him in June 1644, though it was written in the summer of 1640. In issuing it to the world he declares that he wishes for peace and for the return of the king to his parliament. ‘In the meantime,’ he adds, ‘I dare wish that he would make less value of such men—both lay and clergy—who, by running on the Canterbury pace, have made our breaches so wide, and take less delight in the specious way of cathedral devotions.’ These words exhibit Dering as a fair representative of that important part of the nation which set itself against extreme courses, though it was unable to embody its desires in any practically working scheme.
Dering's published works are: 1. ‘The Four Cardinal Virtues of a Carmelite Friar,’ 1641. 2. ‘Four Speeches made by Sir E. Dering,’ 1641 (the pamphlet thus headed contains only three speeches, the fourth being published separately). 3. ‘A most worthy Speech … concerning the Liturgy,’ 1642. 4. ‘A Collection of Speeches made by Sir E. Dering on Matters of Religion,’ 1642. 5. ‘A Declaration by Sir E. Dering,’ 1644. 6. ‘A Discourse of Proper Sacrifice,’ 1644.[The above account is founded on Mr. Bruce's preface to Proceedings in Kent, published by the Camden Society, and upon documents referred to either there or in Gardiner's Hist. of England, 1603–1642, ix. 382, 388, x. 37, 72, 75, 181. Compare Hasted's History of Kent, iii. 229.]