Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Potter, Christopher (1591-1646)

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472958Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 46 — Potter, Christopher (1591-1646)1896William Holden Hutton

POTTER, CHRISTOPHER (1591–1646), provost of Queen's College, Oxford, was born in Westmoreland in 1591. He was the nephew of Barnaby Potter [q. v.] He matriculated from Queen's on 11 July 1606, aged 15, having entered the college in the previous Easter term. He was elected taberdar (pauper puer) on 29 Oct. 1609. He graduated B.A. on 30 April 1610 and M.A. on 8 July 1613, became chaplain on 5 July 1613, and fellow on 22 March 1614-15. He was magister puerorum in 1620, and senior bursar in 1622; graduated B.D. and received a preacher's license on 9 March 1621, and proceeded D.D. on 17 Feb. 1627. He was in his early years a follower of the puritan provost Henry Airay, the opponent of Laud, and himself held a lectureship at Abingdon, 'where he was much resorted to for his edifying way of preaching ' (Wood, Athenae, iii. 180). On his uncle's resignation of the headship of Queen's (17 June 1626), he was elected provost. He now attached himself to Laud, and was made chaplain in ordinary to Charles I. In the first year of his provostship, with the assistance of Sir Thomas Coventry, the Earl of Carlisle, and Sir George Goring, vice-chamberlain to the Queen, he obtained from the king, through an appeal to the queen, the advowson of three rectories and three vicarages in Hampshire for the college. He himself received the rectory of Strathfieldsaye in 1627, and after the death of William Cox (29 Jan. 1632) was made precentor of Chichester. He received the rectory of Bletchington, Oxfordshire, in 1631.

During Laud's chancellorship of the university, Potter was one of his most frequent correspondents. He applied himself diligently to the restoration of the academical habit and discipline (Crosfield's 'Diary' in Laud's Works, v. 17, 24). He did much to restore the adequate performance of the exercises for their degrees by members of his college, instituted expositions of the creed on Sundays in chapel and English sermons on Thursdays, and removed from the college on at least two occasions members of the foundation whose conduct gave cause of scandal. In 1631, on the death of Dr. Rawlinson, principal of St. Edmund Hall, he asserted the rights of his college against the claim of the chancellor to nominate a principal. Laud admitted and confirmed the right (Works, v. 35-6, vi. 291, 294). On the acceptance of the new statutes by the university in 1636, Potter signed them with the special note 'salvo jure collegii praedicti ad aulam S. Edmundi' (Colleges of Oxford, ed. Clark, p. 138; Griffith and Shadwell, Laudian Statutes, p. 1), and he issued a special protestation reaffirming the college rights, as there was no recognition of them in the new university statutes (in Laud's Works, v. 133-4). He had now attracted the notice of puritans as a prominent Arminian, and was attacked in a violent sermon written under the influence probably of Dr. Prideaux (ib. v. 49). He was also engaged in the Roman catholic controversy. He answered the work of the Jesuit Knott (Matthew Wilson), 'Charity Mistaken,' by the king's command in a pamphlet, 'Want of Charity justly charged on all such Romanists as dare affirm that Protestancy destroyeth Salvation' (Oxford, 1633). Potter takes much the same line as Laud had taken in his reply to Fisher. A second edition (London, 1634) was soon called for, and Laud revised the book (ib. vi. 326). The alterations he suggested formed one of the charges brought against him at his trial (Prynne, Canterburies Doome, pp. 251-2; Laud, Works, iv. 279). To Knott's reply, 'Mercy and Truth,' Chillingworth's 'Religion of Protestants' was an answer, and Potter was asked by Laud to revise the latter work (ib. vi. 165–85). He became pro-vice-chancellor on 13 July 1639, and was appointed vice-chancellor on 28 July 1640. It was to him that Laud's letter of resignation of his office was addressed. On 4 Dec. 1640 he found it necessary, with the other university officials, to issue a notice denying that they knew or suspected 'any member of the university to be a papist, or popishly inclined' (ib. vi. 297–8; Macray, Annals of the Bodleian, 2nd edit. p. 92).

He had been promoted, by Laud's influence, to the deanery of Worcester in 1636, and he received the rectory of Great Haseley, Oxfordshire, 1642. He contributed 400l. for himself in answer to the king's demand in July 1642, in addition to the 800l. given by the college. During the civil war he 'suffered much for the king's cause' (Wood, Athenæ Oxon. iii. 179), and fled from Oxford, but returned before Christmas 1642 (Wood, Life and Times, ed. Clark, i. 74). He preached at Uxbridge, before the commissioners for the treaty, a sermon 'which was never printed, but is now in manuscript in ye hands of Mrs. Lamplugh in Westminster' (Hearne, Collections, ed. Doble, ii. 73). In January 1646 the king nominated him to the deanery of Durham, but he died, before his installation, on 3 March. His will was proved on 11 March 1646.

Potter married Elizabeth, daughter of Dr. Charles Sonnibanke, canon of Windsor, by whom he had a son Charles (see below). His widow afterwards married Dr. Gerard Langbaine [q. v.], his successor as provost of Queen's. She erected a monument to his memory on the north wall of the college chapel, in which he is described as 'serius pietatis cultor, rigidus honesti servator, durus studiorum exactor, sobrius veritatis propugnator, pacis servator pervicax' (Gutch, i. 163).

Potter was one of the most prominent recruits of the Laudian party drawn from the puritan clergy. 'He was a person esteemed by all who knew him to be learned and religious, exemplary in his behaviour and discourse, courteous in his carriage, and of a sweet and obliging nature and comely presence' (Wood, Athenæ Oxon. iii. 179). Wood notes (Wood MS. E 32, fol. 28) that four contemporary graduates of Queen's College were named Potter, viz. 'Potter the Wise, Potter the Grave, Potter the Fool, and Potter the Knave.' Christopher was probably the second on the list.

He wrote, besides the works noticed: 1. 'A Sermon [preached at his uncle's consecration as bishop of Carlisle, 15 March 1628]. Hereunto is added an Advertisement touching the History of the Quarrels of Pope Paul 5 with the Venetian; Penned in Italian by F. Paul [Sarpi] and done into English by the former Author. London, printed for John Clarke,' 1629. In this sermon he discussed the Roman claim to supremacy, and vindicated the validity of the English ordinations according to the doctrine of apostolical succession. He gave also a glowing eulogy of his uncle's piety. 2. His own 'Vindication of Himselfe, by way of Letter unto Mr. V. touching the same Points. Written 7 July 1629,' London, John Clark, 1651 (at the end of 'Appello Evangelium,' by John Playter). This was a letter defending his consecration sermon from the censures of his friend, Mr. Vicars, and vindicating his own change from calvinistic opinions. The letter is written in a very touching style of personal piety, and is a sufficient answer to all charges of personal interest or ambition in the writer's acceptance of Laudian principles. Wood says he 'had lying by him at his death several manuscripts fit to be printed, among which was one entit. "A Sermon of the Platform of Predestination," which, coming into the hands of Twisse of Newbury, was by him answered, as also Three Letters of Dr. Potter concerning that matter' (Athenæ Oxon. iii. 181). He made 'Collections concerning the privileges of the University extracted out of the Charters in the School Tower.' This paper came into the hands of Anthony à Wood, who bequeathed it to the Ashmolean Museum. It was missing before 1761 (Wood, Life and Times, ed. Clark, i. 77 n.) A portrait is at Queen's College which is said to be his. It represents a lean, red-haired man of vigorous appearance.

The son, Charles Potter (1634–1663), courtier, born in the college in 1634, was admitted a member of Queen's as 'upper commoner' in the long vacation quarter of 1646, became student of Christ Church in 1647, and was in that year made the senior quadragesimal collector (Wood, Athenæ Oxon. iii. 648). His quadragesimal exercises were published: 'Theses Quadragesimales in Scholis Oxoniæ publicis pro forma discussæ, anno 1649–50,' Oxford, 1651. Wood declares that they were composed by his tutor, Thomas Severn, student of Christ Church. They were 'much commended when first published.' Potter graduated B. A. on 27 June 1649, and M.A. on 15 July 1651. He joined the exiled court of Charles II, and was for a time in the suite of James Crofts (afterwards Duke of Monmouth). He travelled in France, 1657-8, and lived extravagantly. It was feared that in Paris he had 'mortgaged his land to enjoy the delights of the city' (Cal. State Papers, Dom. 1657-8, p. 276), and was later 'in a mean condition' (ib. p. 356). He became a Roman catholic, and at the Restoration was made an usher to Queen Henrietta Maria. In May 1662 he was repaid 2,000l. which his father had lent to Charles I (ib. 1661-2, p. 378), and in June he received further sums for his faithful service ' (ib. p. 399). He died at his lodgings in Duke Street, Strand, London, in December 1663, and was buried in St. Paul's, Covent Garden.

[Queen's College MSS.; information kindly given by the Rev. J. K. Magrath, D.D., provost; Wood's Athenae Oxon. and Fasti; Laud's Works; Foster's Alumni Oxon.; Wood's Life and Times, ed. Clark (Oxford Hist. Soc.); Cal. State Papers, Dom.; Le Neve's Fasti.]

W. H. H.