Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Field, Richard (1561-1616)
FIELD, RICHARD, D.D. (1561–1616), divine, was born 15 Oct. 1561, at Hemel Hempstead in Hertfordshire, of an old and reputable family. 'His ancestors,' says his son and biographer, 'were blessed with length of days.' The estate which he inherited from his father and grandfather had been in the hands of only three owners in 160 years. He was educated at Berkhampstead school and matriculated at the age of sixteen (1577) as of Magdalen College, Oxford, where he remained till he took his B.A. degree, 18 Nov. 1581, when he removed to Magdalen Hall. Here he took his master's degree, 2 June 1584, and was appointed to the 'Catechism Lecture,' which, though in reality a private lecture for that house, was made by him so interesting that it drew hearers from the whole university, among whom, it is said, was Dr. Rainolds (or Reynolds), the well-known president of Corpus Christi College. He was now famous, esteemed for his knowledge of school divinity, and esteemed one of the best disputants in the university. His father, it would appear, had at this time provided a match for him as his eldest son, but his not taking orders was made an his indispensable condition; upon which he returned to Oxford, and after a residence of seven years, till he took his degree of B.D. 14 Jan. 1592, he was made divinity reader of Winchester Cathedral. He appears then to have left Oxford, but his character as an indefatigable student lived in the university long after his departure, and 'Dr. Field's rooms were shown as an object of interest.' In 1594 he was chosen divinity lecturer to the Hon. Society of Lincoln's Inn, and soon after presented by Mr. Richard Kingsmill, a bencher of the inn, to the rectory of Burghclere, Hampshire. Mr. Kingsmill resided at Highclere, close by, and his brother, Sir William Kingsmill, at Sydmonton Court, not far off, and both families were constant attendants ar Burghclere church. Field was offered the more valuable living of St. Andrews, Holborn, which he declined, preferring the leisure and quiet of Burghclere, where he passed the greater part of his time till his death. On 9 April 1594 he married Elizabeth, daughter of the Rev. Richard Harris, sometime fellow of New College and rector of Hardwick, Buckinghamshire. On 7 Dec. 1596 he proceeded to the degree of D.D., being at that time of Queen's' College, and described as 'sometimes of Magdalen Hall.' In September 1598 he received a latter from Lord Hunsdon, dated 'from the court at Greenwich, desiring him to come and preach before the queen (Elizabeth) on the 23rd of that month a probationary sermon, upon which he was appointed one of her majesty's chaplains in ordinary, and received a grant of the next vacant prebend at Windsor. This grant is dated 30 March 1602, and he succeeded to the vacancy, and was installed 3 Aug. 1604. He was joined in a special commission with William, marquis of Winchester, Thomas Bilson, bishop of Winton, and others, for ecclesiastical causes within the diocese of Winchester, and in another to exercise all spiritual jurisdiction in the said diocese with Whitgift, archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas, bishop of Winton, and others, by James I, 1603, to whom he was also chaplain, and by whom he was sent to the Hampton Court conference, 14 Jan. 1603.
When King James came to Oxford in 1605, Field was sent for to take part in the Divinity Act. Sir Nathaniel Brent, then one of the proctors, and afterwards vicar-general and warden of Merton, declared that the disputation between Doctors Field and Aglionby before the king, on the question ‘Whether saints and angels know the hearts of men,’ was the best he ever heard. In 1610 he was made dean of Gloucester, but never resided there, preaching rarely above four or times a year, but always commanding a great audience. He chiefly resided at Burghclere and Windsor, and when in residence in the cloisters at the latter place during the winter months his house was the resort of many eminent men, who came to enjoy his learned conversation. He was on intimate terms with Sir Henry Savile, the provost of Eton, and Sir Henry Nevill, who had been Queen Elizabeth's ambassador to France, and lived near to Windsor. He often preached before the king, who, upon the first occasion that he heard him, exclaimed ‘Is his name Field? This is a field for God to dwell in.' Similarly Fuller, years afterwards, styled him ‘that learned divine, whose memory smelleth like a field which the Lord hath blessed.’ The king took singular pleasure in discussing with him nice and curious points of divinity, and had designed to send him to Germany to compose the differences between Lutherans and Calvinists, but for some reason not known the project was dropped. His majesty also wished to bestow on him the bishopric of Salisbury, but it seems the solicitations of his courtiers were powerful enough to procure it for another person. It is certain, however, from a letter from Sir George Villiers, afterwards Duke of Buckingham, dated ‘from the court at Wansted 11 July 1616,’ that the revision of the see of Oxford, upon its next avoidance, was proposed to him. Bishop Hall, who became dean of Worcester the month after Field's death, mentions that that deanery was deanery was designed for him, and laments that so learned a man did not live to fill it. On 14 Oct. 1614 he lost his wife, who left him six sons and a daughter. ‘He continued a widower about two years, when he was persuaded by his friends to marry again, and they recommended to him, for a religious, wise, understanding woman, the widow of Dr. John Spencer, sometime president of Corpus Christi College, Oxford, of whose birth and education Mr. Isaak Walton gives us a very good character in the life of Mr. Hooker.’ Dr. Spencer's widow was Dorothy, daughter of Thomas Cranmer, the archbishop's nephew, and Isaak Walton's aunt. Field, however, survived his second marriage little more than a month. On 16 Nov. 1616 he was seized with a fit of apoplexy and suddenly carried off. He was buried in the outer chapel of St. George's, Windsor, below the choir. A black marble slab, with his figure in brass, was laid over his grave, and an inscription, also on brass, recording his death and that of his first wife, Elizabeth Harris.
His great work was first published in 1606. The title is ‘Of the Church Five Bookes, by Richard Field, Doctor of Divinity; at London imprinted bv Humfrey Lownes for Simon Waterson, 1606.’ This is a 4to volume. There are in reality only four books. In 1610 was printed ‘The Fifth Booke of the Church, together with an appendix containing a defence of such passages of the former books that have been excepted against, or wrested to the maintenance of Romish errors, by Richard Field, Doctour of Divinity; London, printed by Nicholas Okes for Simon Waterson,’ 1610, 4to. It has been discovered that there was another impression of the volume of 1606, in which the errata were corrected. Both have the same date and the same number of pages, but no two pages in the two books agree in all particulars, and Lownes's name does not appear in the title of the second impression. These are Field's own editions, and are dedicated to the Archbishop of Canterbury (Bancroft). A second edition of the whole ‘Of the Church Five Bookes, by Richard Field, D.D., and sometimes Dean of Glocester. The second edition, very much enlarged in the third booke, and the appendix to the same; at Oxford, imprinted by William Turner, printer to the famous University, 1628,’ folio, was edited by Nathaniel Field, the author's son, and dedicated to Villiers, duke of Buckingham. This edition is charged by the Scots in their ‘Canterburian's Self-conviction,’ 1641, 4to, with additions made by Archbishop Laud. The third edition was printed ‘by William Turner, printer to the famous Vniversitie, 1635’ folio. Modern editions are those by the Ecclesiastical History Society, Cambridge, 1847-52, 4 vols. 8vo, reissued with new title, London, 1853, edited by the Rev. J. S. Brewer, London, 1843, of which the first volume only was published. It is needless to speak of a work which has long taken its stand by the side of Hooker among the grandest monuments of polemical divinity in the language. Anthony Wood's description of Field's personal character, his vast learning and astonishing memory, his peaceable disposition and amiable qualities, will be found the 'Athenae.' It is well known that Field and Hooker were on terms of the greatest friendship, which was probably brought about by Dr. Spencer, their common friend, for Hooker was older than Field by eight years, and had left the university before Field came there. Dr. Spencer was the dear friend and fellow-pupil of Hooker, and edited his works.
In 1604 Field published a sermon on St. Jude v. 3, preached before the king at Windsor, and shortly before his death had written a great part of a work entitled 'A View of the Controversies in Religion, which in these last times have caused the Lamentable Divisions in the Christian World.' This was never completed, but the preface is printed in his 'Life', by his son, Nathaniel Field, rector of Stourton, Wiltshire, and published by John Le Neve, author of the 'Fasti Ecclesiae Anglicanae,' in 1716. From a copy of this life, interleaved with manuscript additions from the author's rough draft by the editor (Le Neve), and some notes by Bishop White Kennett (which copy is now in the British Museum), Gough drew up the 'Life of Field,' which was printed in vol. vi. pt. i. of the new edition of the 'Biographia Britannica.' Of that volume a manuscript note in the Bodleian copy says, 'Of this part I know but of one copy existing.' Chalmers, in his 'Biographical Dictionary',' transcribed the article. We have little to add but that King James, with his own hand, inserted Field's name as one of the fellows of Chelsea College, and on hearing of his death, expressed his regret in the words, 'I should have done more for that man.' Of Field's sons, Nathaniel was prebendary of Chichester and rector of Stourton. Richard was M.D. and died single, and was buried in St. Bride's Church, 1696. Giles died in 1629, aged 21, and is buried in New College Chapel.[Wood's Athenae Oxon. (Bliss), ii. 181-6; Life, edited by Le Neve; Gough 's Life in Biog. Brit]