Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Felton, Nicholas

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FELTON, NICHOLAS (1556–1626), bishop of Ely, son of a seafaring man, who, ‘by God's blessing and his own industry, had attained a competent estate,’ was born at Yarmouth in Norfolk in 1556. He was educated at Pembroke College, Cambridge, of which he was chosen fellow 27 Nov. 1583. He became B.A. in 1580–1, M.A. in 1584, B.D. in 1591, and D.D. 1602. He was chosen Greek lecturer of his college in 1586. Felton acquired a high character as a scholar and theologian by his wide erudition, moderation, and sound judgment. He was brought under the notice of Whitgift, by whom, 17 Jan. 1595–6, he was collated to the rectory of St. Mary-le-Bow, Cheapside, which he held till his consecration as bishop of Bristol in 1617, obtaining great celebrity as a learned and edifying preacher. He also held at various times the rectories of St. Antholin, Budge Row, Blagdon in Somerset, and Easton Magna, Essex, to which last benefice he was appointed 23 Oct. 1616. He also received the prebendal stall of Chamberlainswood in St. Paul's Cathedral, 4 March 1616, and held it in commendam with his impoverished bishopric till his translation to Ely. When in 1612 there was a prospect of a vacancy of the mastership of Pembroke College, then held by Harsnet, bishop of Chichester and afterwards archbishop of York, Andrewes, then bishop of Ely, used his powerful influence in favour of his ‘most worthy, upright, and learned friend,’ as one likely to ‘heal the dissensions then long prevailing, and prove a good head to a good house else likely to sink’ (RUSSELL, Life of Andrewes, p. 354).

Harsnet continued to hold the mastership for five years longer, and Felton, to the great joy of all well-wishers of the college, was elected his successor, 4 March 1616–17, holding it with the bishopric of Bristol till his translation to Ely, 1618–19. Felton secured the favour of James I, who, Andrewes writes, ‘signifies his good liking of him, and his wishes for his preferment.’ Royal wishes in that age differed little from royal commands, and Felton was speedily raised to the episcopate, being consecrated bishop of Bristol by Archbishop Abbot, his friend Andrewes assisting, 14 Dec. 1617. Andrewes, on his translation to Winchester, had the satisfaction of seeing his place filled by his trusted friend, who was elected his successor 2 March 1618–19. Felton, a few months previous, had been nominated to the see of Lichfield, on Bishop Morton's translation to Durham. The college then sent a deputation to the Duke of Buckingham, begging him to allow them to retain him as their head, notwithstanding his elevation to the episcopate. Felton, however, appears to have found by experience that the two offices were incompatible, and resigned the headship of Pembroke before his election to Ely. As a bishop we are told he proved himself ‘a profound scholar, a painful preacher, conspicuous for his hospitality and charity; happy in the wise choice of his curates, and not less happy in his learned and religious chaplains’ (Parkins MSS., Pembr. Coll. Cambr.) Fuller records of him (Church Hist. vi. 63) that he had ‘a sound head and a sanctified heart, was beloved of all good men, very hospitable to all, and charitable to the poor,’ devoting a considerable portion of his income to their relief, and proving himself one of the most upright and deservedly popular prelates of his time. Felton's exact theological position is not easy to determine. He left no writings, and little is recorded by his contemporaries of any part taken by him in the controversies of the day. Puritan sympathies have been attributed to him, because Edmund Calamy the elder [q.v.] was his domestic chaplain, and was presented by him to the incumbency of Swaffham Priors, and others of his curates and chaplains were of the same theological school. An opposite inference may be drawn from his close and confidential friendship with Andrewes, as well as from the fact that in the severe struggle for the lectureship at Trinity Church, Cambridge, in 1624, Felton espoused the cause of Micklethwait, fellow of Sidney, against Dr. Preston, master of Emmanuel, the most eminent of the nonconformist party in the university. His reputation for soundness of judgment in practical matters is evidenced by the appeal made to him by some of the fellows of St. John's, 15 April 1624, to interpret certain clauses in their statutes (BAKER, Hist. of St. John's, p. 490), and by his being appointed to compile the statutes for Merchant Taylors' School in reference to the annual probation days. His theological erudition is sufficiently evidenced by his appointment as one of the translators of the Bible, ‘non infimi nominis,’ forming one of the group to whom the Epistles were assigned, his name, however, being commonly misspelt Fenton. He married the widow of Dr. Robert Norgate, master of Corpus Christi College, Cambridge. He died 6 Oct. 1626, aged 63, and was buried by his desire beneath the communion-table of St. Antholin's Church, London, of which he had been rector for twenty-eight years, without any memorial. Fuller remarks that he was ‘buried before, though dying some days after, Bishop Andrewes. Great was the conformity between them; both scholars, fellows, and masters of Pembroke Hall; both great scholars and painful preachers in London for many years, with no less profit to others than credit to themselves; both successively bishops of Ely’ (Church Hist. vi. 63). Felton's portrait when bishop of Bristol is at Pembroke College, and another half-length, given to Cole by Bishop Gooch, and by him to the see, hangs in the palace at Ely.

[Parkins MSS., Pembroke College, Cambridge; Lansdowne MS. 484, No. 47, p. 83; Godwin, i. 274; Newcourt's Repert. i. 136, 375; Fuller's Church Hist. vi. 63; Fuller's Worthies; Russell's Life of Andrewes, pp. 17, 354, 445; Russell's Memorials of Thomas Fuller, pp. 11, 114, 179.]

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