Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Harrison, Robert (d.1585?)

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1386757Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 25 — Harrison, Robert (d.1585?)1891Ronald Bayne

HARRISON, ROBERT (d. 1585?), Brownist, matriculated as a pensioner of St. John's College, Cambridge, 4 Oct. 1564, removed to Corpus Christi College, and proceeded B.A. 1567, M.A. 1572. In July 1573 he applied for the post of master of the grammar school of Aylsham, Norfolk, being recommended to Bishop Parkhurst by the mayor and certain of the aldermen of Norwich. The recommendation endeavoured to excuse Harrison for having raised an objection to the use of the prayer-book service at his marriage. The bishop at first refused to appoint him, alleging that he was young, that he had recently suffered ‘with a phrensy,’ and that his offence in the matter of his marriage had been committed in spite of the warning of the vicar, Thexton, and the schoolmaster, Greenwood. The bishop finally gave way, in response to an appeal from the chief inhabitants of Aylsham, but within a month of his appointment Harrison requested that changes might be made in the baptismal service on the occasion of his being godfather to an infant, and he was in consequence removed by the bishop in January 1574. Harrison afterwards went to Cambridge with a view to taking orders in the English church. He was dissuaded by Robert Browne [q. v.], whom he had known previously. Subsequently he became master of a hospital in Norwich, probably the hospital of St. Giles, or the Old Men's Hospital, which had some connection with Aylsham. Browne visited him at Norwich, and lodged and boarded with him and his wife. In ‘A True and Short Declaration, &c.,’ Browne gives an elaborate account of the origin and growth of his friendship with Harrison, whom he puts first in the list of his helpers and disciples. According to Browne's narrative, Harrison came completely over to his views, and the two spent all their energies in preaching and collecting a congregation at Norwich. In April 1581 Bishop Freake of Norwich sent formal articles of complaint against Browne and Harrison to Burghley, and the whole congregation decided to migrate to Middelburg in Zeeland in the autumn of the same year (1581). Harrison, according to his own account, suffered imprisonment before leaving England (A Little Treatise, pref.) At Middelburg the refugees enjoyed freedom of worship, and wrote tracts explaining their views, which were shipped over to England and distributed in large quantities. Two men were hanged for dispersing them, and a royal proclamation issued against them in June 1583. In the proclamation Harrison is misnamed Richard. Harrison wrote two of the prohibited books: 1. ‘A Little Treatise uppon the firste verse of the 122nd Psalm. Stirring up unto carefull desiring and dutiful labouring for true Church Gouvernement, R. H.,’ 1583, 16mo, reprinted at Leyden, 1618, 16mo. The preface states that the book is a fragment of a more elaborate work on church government, which illness and the cost of printing prevented Harrison from completing. 2. ‘Three formes of Catechismes, conteyning the most principal pointes of Religion,’ 1583, 16mo. The cost of printing the Brownist tracts was apparently borne largely by Harrison (S. Bredwell, Rasing of the Foundations of Brownisme, p. xii). Grave dissensions soon arose among the members of the Middelburg congregation (G. Johnson, Discourse of some Troubles and Excommunications in the banished English Church of Amsterdam). Harrison and Browne quarrelled, and the latter sailed for Scotland with a few followers in November or December 1583. Harrison was now the head of the congregation, and made an unsuccessful effort to join it to the Conforming Church of English merchants presided over by Cartwright and Fenner. He apparently addressed a formal letter to Cartwright, who in his reply spoke in high terms of Harrison. Harrison wrote a second letter, and printed it along with Cartwright's in ‘An Answere to Master Cartwright his Letter for joyning with the English Churches: whereunto the true copie of his sayde Letter is annexed,’ &c., London, n.d. 4to. Harrison died about 1585.

Besides the works mentioned above Harrison is credited with: 1. ‘Of Ghostes and Spirites walking by night, and of strange noyses, crackes, and sundry forewarninges, which commonly happen before the death of menne, great slaughters and alterations of kyngdomes. One Booke. Written by Lewes Lavaterus of Tigurine, and translated into Englyshe by R. H.,’ London, 4to, 1572 and 1596. 2. ‘A boke of the forme of common prayers, administration of the Sacramentes, &c., agreeable to Gods worde and the use of the Reformed Churches,’ 8vo, 1586, 1587; and possibly 3. ‘Master R. H. His letter to the B. of Norwich,’ 1576 (in A Parte of a Register, pp. 365–70).

‘A Theologicall Discourse of the Lamb of God and His enemies,’ London, 4to, 1590, often attributed to Harrison, is by Richard Harvey [q. v.] (Dexter, Congregationalism, p. 69, app. 13; cf. Strype, Annals, ii. ii. 62, and Brook, Puritans, i. 193).

[H. M. Dexter, in his Congregationalism as seen in its Literature, has sketched Harrison's life, correcting and adding to Cooper's account in Athenæ Cantabr. ii. 177. See also Fuller's Church Hist. ed. Brewer, v. 67; Brooks's Cartwright, pp. 304–6; and authorities cited above.]

R. B.