Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Neile, Richard

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NEILE, RICHARD (1562–1640), archbishop of York, born in Westminster in 1562, was son of a tallow-chandler, but his grandfather had held a considerable estate and an office at court under Henry VIII, till he was deprived for non-compliance with the Six Articles. Richard was educated at Westminster School, under Edward Grant [q. v.] and William Camden [q. v.] (Wood, Athenæ Oxonienses, ii. 341), but never became a good scholar. When he was bishop of Durham he reproved a schoolmaster for severely flogging his boys, and said that he had himself been so much chastised at Westminster that he never acquired a mastery of Latin (Leighton, Epitome, p. 75). Dr. Grant would have persuaded his mother to apprentice him to a bookseller, but he was sent by Mildred, lady Burghley, wife of the lord treasurer, on the recommendation of Gabriel Goodman [q. v.], dean of Westminster, to St. John's College, Cambridge, as ‘a poor and fatherless child, of good hope to be learned, and to continue therein’ (letter of Dr. Goodman, given in Le Neve, Lives of Bishops since the Reformation, p. 137). He was admitted scholar of the college on 22 April 1580, and matriculated on 18 May. He continued to enjoy the patronage of the Burghley family, residing in their household, and became chaplain to Lord Burghley, and afterwards to his son, Robert Cecil, earl of Salisbury. He took the degree of doctor in divinity in 1600, when he ‘kept the Commencement Act,’ and therein maintained the following questions: 1. ‘Auricularis Confessio Papistica non nititur Verbo Dei.’ 2. ‘Animæ piorum erant in cælo ante Christi Ascensum.’ He preached before Queen Elizabeth, who was ‘much taken with him.’ Among his early preferments was the vicarage of Cheshunt, Hertfordshire (resigned in 1609), and on the memorable 5 Nov. 1605 he was installed dean of Westminster. He resigned the deanery in 1610. While at Westminster he took great interest in the progress of the school, and yearly sent two or three scholars to the universities at his own cost, ‘in thankful remembrance of God's goodness,’ through the beneficence of his patrons the Cecils.

In 1608 he was nominated bishop of Rochester. He was elected on 2 July, confirmed on 8 Oct., and consecrated at Lambeth on 9 Oct. In August he appointed Laud his chaplain, and it was by his introduction that the future archbishop first preached before the king on 17 Sept. 1619. He interested himself keenly in the advancement of his chaplain, and gave him several valuable preferments. It was his interest with the king which procured the royal license for Laud's election to the presidency of St. John's College, in spite of the representations of the chancellor of the university of Oxford.

On the translation of Abbot from Lichfield to London in 1610, Neale was elected bishop of Lichfield and Coventry on 12 Oct., and confirmed on 6 Dec. In 1612 he was concerned in the trial for heresy of Edward Wightman. The unhappy man was condemned for blasphemy on the doctrine of the Trinity, and finally burnt at the stake by the secular power (State Trials, ii. 727; Cal. of State Papers, Dom. 1639–40).

In 1613 Neile sat on the commission appointed to try the Essex divorce suit, and with Bishop Andrewes and the majority he voted in favour of the dissolution of the unhappy marriage [see Devereux, Robert, third Earl of Essex]. He continued in high favour with the king. In 1614 he was translated to Lincoln. In the debate in the House of Lords on the commons' demand for a conference on the impositions (24 May 1614), he made himself prominent by a violent attack upon the commons and a strong declaration of the royal prerogative. The House of Commons, after hot debate, demanded satisfaction from the lords for the aspersions of Neile. The bishop finally apologised with tears, but the commons proceeded to further charges and recriminations which were silenced only by the dissolution of parliament. James's favour was not alienated. Neile attended the king in his progress to Scotland in 1617, and on his return was translated to Durham (9 Oct.). ‘He presently set himself,’ says Heylyn (Cyprianus Anglicus, p. 74), ‘on work to repair the palaces and houses belonging to it which he had found in great decay; but he so adorned and beautified them in a very short space, that they that saw them could not think that they were the same.’ He pulled down part of the great hall in the castle of Durham (Wood, ii. 731). ‘But that which gave him most content was his palace of Durham House in the Strand, not only because it afforded him convenient room for his retinue, but because it was large enough to allow sufficient quarters for Buckeridge, bishop of Rochester, and Laud, dean of Gloucester, which he enjoyed when he was bishop of St. David's also; some other quarters were reserved for his old servant, Doctor Linsell, and others for such learned men of his acquaintance as came from time to time to attend upon him, insomuch that it passed commonly by the name of Durham College’ (Heylyn, Cyprianus; see also Laud, Works, iii. 177). The affairs of the north kept him fully employed, but he attended the trial of Bacon, when he spoke against depriving the fallen chancellor of his peerage. In the northern province his political activity was considerable. He corresponded constantly with Secretary Conway on the defence of the coast, the train bands, fortifications, ammunition, ordnance, and protection of fisheries (cf. Cal. State Papers, Dom. 27 Oct. 1625, 5 Aug. 1626).

From the end of 1625 the French ambassador resided in Durham House (ib. 31 Dec. 1625), and the riot that occurred when the king endeavoured to arrest the English Romanists attending mass in his chapel was only stayed by the personal intervention of Neile (see Gardiner, Hist. of England, vi. 70–1). At the end of April 1627 he was sworn of the privy council. On 9 Oct. in the same year he was placed on the commission appointed to exercise archiepiscopal jurisdiction during the sequestration of Abbot (Cal. of State Papers, Dom.) On 10 Dec. he was elected bishop of Winchester, was confirmed on 7 Feb., and received the temporalities on 19 Feb. 1628 (ib.) Neile was now recognised as one of the most prominent members of the party of which Laud was the admitted leader (ib. August 1628; Laud, Works, vi. 301), and complaints against him were made in parliament (February 1629). A patron of John Cosin [q. v.] and Richard Montagu [q. v.], as well as of Laud, he was an uncompromising churchman and disciplinarian. The commons declared that he silenced all opposition to popery, and in the debate on the pardons to Montagu, Cosin, and Sibthorpe his conduct furnished Oliver Cromwell with the subject of his first speech in the house. On 13 June the commons voted ‘that Dr. Neile, Bishop of Winchester, and Dr. Laud, Bishop of Bath and Wells, be named to be those near about the king who are suspected to be Arminians, and that they are justly suspected to be unsound in their opinions that way.’ His defence was based on the Anglican theory which found so little favour in the commons, but he was careful to purge himself from all suspicion of popery by severity towards recusants (Cal. of State Papers, Dom. passim).

Neile regularly sat on the high commission and in the Star-chamber. In the case of Leighton (1630, Star-chamber) he argued in favour of the divine right of episcopacy (cf. Gardiner, Cases in the Courts, &c., Camd. Soc.; Cal. of State Papers, Dom. passim). His commission was from the Holy Spirit. ‘If he could not make that good, he would fling his rochet and all the rest from his back’ (Leighton, Epitome, p. 75).

On 5 Jan. 1631 he was put on the commission for inquiring into the execution of the laws concerning the relief of the poor, the binding of apprentices, &c., and on 10 April on that for the repair of St. Paul's Cathedral. On 28 Feb. he was elected to the archbishopric of York, vacant by the death of Harsnet. The royal assent to the election was given on 3 March, the confirmation took place on 19 March, and the enthronement on 16 April (Le Neve; Cal. of State Papers). On 24 Nov. 1633 he took part in the baptism of James, duke of York. In 1635 he vindicated the right of the archbishops of York to visit Queen's College, Oxford, as against the claim of Laud.

In January 1633–4 he sent to the king a long report of the state of church affairs in his diocese and province (ib. with the king's notes). He had found the dioceses of Carlisle and Chester to have very widely departed from the practice of uniformity, many of the ministers ‘chopping, changing, altering, omitting, and adding at their pleasure, and lay officers interfering in ecclesiastical matters in a highhanded way.’ By January 1636 he had ordered his province much more successfully. In his own diocese he ‘scarce finds a beneficed minister stiffly unconformable,’ and very large sums had been spent in repairing and adorning churches. The report of the diocese for 1636–7 states that he had not found ‘any distractions of opinion touching points of divinity lately controverted.’ He declared himself a ‘great adversary of the puritan faction … yet (having been a bishop eight and twenty years) he never deprived any man, but has endeavoured their reformation.’

Though an old man, he continued till his death to be active in political as well as in ecclesiastical business. Till within a fortnight of his death his correspondence was kept up with Laud, Windebanke, and Sir Dudley Carleton. Neile died ‘in the mansion house belonging to the prebend of Stillington, within the close of the church of York,’ on 31 Oct. 1640, and was buried at the east end of the cathedral, in the chapel of All Saints, without a monument. He was a man of little learning, but of much address and great capacity for business, and he possessed in a marked degree the power of influencing and directing the work of others. He was popular both at court and among his clergy. Ready and humorous of speech, conscientious in his attachment to the principles advocated by men more learned than himself, hard working and careful of opportunity, he became prominent and successful where greater men failed. His best quality was a sound common-sense, his worst a lack of prescience. He was ‘a man of such a strange composition that whether he were of a larger and more public soul, or of a more uncourtly conversation, it were hard indeed to say’ (Heylyn). Laud spoke of him as ‘a man well known to be as true to, and as stout for, the church of England established by law as any man that came to preferment in it’ (Works, iv. 293). Baillie mentions him on his death as ‘a great enemy to us’ (Baillie, Letters, ed. Lang, i. 270). He left one son, Paul Neile of ‘Bowdill,’ Yorkshire, who was knighted 27 May 1633, and was father of William Neile [q. v.]

He published:

  1. Articles for his primary visitation as Bishop of Winchester, printed by R. Young, London, 1628. Containing inquiries as to the ministering of the sacraments, ordering of penances, and maintenance of church discipline.
  2. Articles for his metropolitical visitation, London, printed by John Norton, 1633. Almost exactly the same as the above.
  3. ‘By commandment of King James he printed in English and Latin the conference that he had with the Archbishop of Spalatro after he had discovered his intention to return to Rome’ (Le Neve, Lives of the Bishops since the Reformation, p. 149, quoting from Neile's manuscript defence of himself in parliament).

[Calendars of State Papers, Dom. 1625–40; Laud's Works; Anthony Wood's Athenæ Oxon.; Gardiner's Hist. of England; Heylyn's Cyprianus Anglicus; Perry's Hist. of the Church of England; Waller's Poems, 1722, p. vi; Yorks Diaries (Surtees Soc.), vol. lxv.; Gardiner's Reports of Cases in the Courts of Star Chamber and High Commission (Camd. Soc.), 1886.]

W. H. H.