Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Playfere, Thomas

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PLAYFERE, THOMAS (1561?–1609), divine, born in London about 1561, was son of William Playfere and Alice, daughter of William Wood of ‘Bolling’ in Kent. He matriculated as a pensioner of St. John's College, Cambridge, in December 1576, and on 5 Nov. 1579 was admitted a scholar on the Lady Margaret's foundation. He graduated B.A. in 1579–80, M.A. in 1583, B.D. in 1590, and D.D. in 1596 (cf. State Papers, Dom. Addenda, xxvii. 72). On 10 April 1584 he was admitted a fellow on the Lady Margaret's foundation. He contributed to the university collection of Latin elegies on Sir Philip Sidney (16 Feb. 1586–7). He served the college offices of prælector topicus, 1587; rhetoric examiner, 1588, medical lecturer on Dr. Linacre's foundation; preacher, 1591; Hebrew prælector, 1593–4; senior fellow and senior dean, 1598; and principal lecturer, 1600. According to Foster (Alumni Oxon.), he joined the Inner Temple in 1594, and in 1596 he was incorporated D.D. at Oxford. After the death of Dr. Whitaker, master of St. John's, Playfere and Clayton were candidates for the mastership, and Clayton was chosen. In December 1596 Playfere was elected Lady Margaret professor of divinity. He became chaplain to King James, and often preached before him at court. He also preached before Prince Henry at Greenwich on 12 March 1604–5, and before the kings of England and Denmark at Theobalds, then the residence of the Earl of Salisbury, on 27 July 1606. The latter sermon, in Latin, was published.

Playfere held the crown living of Cheam in Surrey from 1605 to 1609. In 1608 he became rector of All Saints, in Shipdham, and of Thorpe, Norfolk (Blomefield, Norfolk, x. 247). On 4 Nov. 1602 Chamberlain had written to Carleton that ‘Dr. Plafer, the divinity reader, is crazed for love’ (State Papers, Dom. cclxxxv. 48), and after 1606 Playfere's mind gave way, but he held his professorship until his death, on 2 Feb. 1608–1609. His reputation as a fluent preacher in Latin was high, but, says Thomas Baker, ‘had his sermons never been printed he had left a greater name behind.’ His funeral sermon was preached by Dr. Thomas Jegon, vice-chancellor; John Williams, then a fellow of St. John's, afterwards lord keeper, pronounced an eloquent oration on him in the college chapel. He was buried in the church of St. Botolph, Cambridge, where a monument with his bust, and a panegyrical inscription was placed by desire of his wife Alicia.

Playfere published various single sermons during his lifetime, and after his death appeared: ‘Ten Sermons,’ Cambridge, 1610; a volume (1611), containing four sermons (including ‘The Pathway to Perfection’), each sermon with a separate title-page, and wanting a general title; ‘Nine Sermons,’ Cambridge, 1612, dedicated to Sir Reynold Argal. ‘The whole sermons gathered into one volume’ were issued at London in 1623 and 1638.

[Hist. MSS. Comm. 3rd Rep. p. 174, 6th Rep. p. 270 l; Foster's Alumni Oxon. (incorrectly makes him rector of Ruan-Lanihorne in Cornwall, 1605–10); Lansd. MS. 983, f. 129; Wood's Fasti, i. 274; Baker's Hist. of St. John's, pp. 190, 194; Cooper's Annals of Cambridge, ii. 431, 564; Manning and Bray's Surrey, ii. 479; Fuller's Worthies, ‘Kent;’ Nichols's Progresses of James I, iii. 1073; Rymer's edit. of Fisher's Lady Margaret Sermons, p. 73; Hacket's Scrinia Reserata, i. 10, 18; Puritan Transactions at Cambridge, ii. 15; Fuller's Worthies; Cooper's Athenæ Cant.]

W. A. S.