Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Watson, Thomas (1513-1584)

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WATSON, THOMAS (1513–1584), bishop of Lincoln, was born in 1513 in the diocese of Durham, it is said at Nun Stinton, near Sedgefield. He was educated at St. John's College, Cambridge, proceeding B.A. in 1533–4 and M.A. in 1537. He is confused by Strype and others with John Watson (d. 1530), master of Christ's College, Cambridge [see under Watson, John, 1520–1584]. About 1535 Watson was elected fellow of St. John's College, where he was for several years dean and preacher. There, writes Roger Ascham [q. v.], Watson was one of the scholars who ‘put so their helping hands, as that universitie and all students there, as long as learning shall last, shall be bound unto them’ (Scholemaster, ed. Mayor, p. 198). Besides Ascham, Watson had as friends and contemporaries Cheke, John Redman, Sir Thomas Smith, and others who led the revival of Greek learning at Cambridge. They would frequently discuss Aristotle's ‘Poetics’ and Horace's ‘Ars Poetica’ while Watson was writing his tragedy of ‘Absalom.’ Watson's fastidious scholarship would not allow him to publish it because in one or two verses he had used an anapaest instead of an iambus, though Ascham declared that ‘Absalom’ and George Buchanan's ‘Jephtha’ were the only two English tragedies that could stand ‘the true touch of Aristotle's precepts’ (ib. p. 207). Watson's play is said to have remained in manuscript at Penshurst, but it is not mentioned in the historical manuscripts commission's report on the papers preserved there (3rd Rep. App. pp. 227 sqq.); it has erroneously been assigned by Mr. Fleay and others to John Watson [q. v.], bishop of Winchester, and has also led to Thomas's confusion with Thomas Watson [q. v.], the poet (e.g. Gabriel Harvey, Works, ed. Grosart, i. 22, 23, 112, 218, ii. 83, 171, 290, where the references i. 112, 218, ii. 83, 290 are to the poet; and Nash, Works, ed. Grosart, ii. 65, 73, iii. 187, where the last reference also is to the poet).

In 1543 Watson proceeded B.D., and in 1545 Stephen Gardiner [q. v.], bishop of Winchester, appointed him his chaplain and rector of Wyke Regis in Dorset; he is also said to have been presented to the vicarage of Buckminster, Leicestershire, in 1547. He zealously abetted Gardiner in his dispute with the council as to its authority to make religious changes during Edward VI's minority, and is said to have been the medium of communication between the council and Gardiner. He is himself stated to have been imprisoned in the Fleet in 1547 for preaching at Winchester against two reformers, who thereupon complained to Somerset and Sir William Cecil, and to have been liberated with Gardiner on 6 Jan. 1547–8; but there is no record of his imprisonment before 4 Dec. 1550, when he was summoned before the privy council. He was in the Fleet prison in the following year, when he was called as a witness at Gardiner's trial, and examined as to whether the bishop had, in his sermon at St. Paul's on 29 June 1548, maintained the authority of the council or not; he avoided offence by declaring that he had been too far off to hear what Gardiner said (Lit. Rem. of Edward VI, p. cviii). In the same year he assisted Gardiner in preparing his ‘Confutatio Cavillationum,’ a second answer to Cranmer, which was published at Paris in 1552. On one occasion during the reign Watson's life is said to have been saved by John Rough [q. v.], a service to which Rough appealed in vain when brought before Watson and Bonner in Mary's reign. On 3 Dec. 1551 Watson was present at a private discussion at Sir Richard Morison's house on the question of the real presence; his argument is preserved in Corpus Christi College, Cambridge (MS. 102, p. 259), and is abridged in Strype's ‘Life of Cheke’ (pp. 77–86).

On Mary's accession Watson became one of the chief catholic controversialists. On 20 Aug. 1553 he was selected to preach at Paul's Cross, when, to prevent a recurrence of the disturbances at Gilbert Bourne's sermon on the previous Sunday, many of the privy council and a strong guard were present. According to a contemporary but hostile newsletter, ‘his sermon was neither eloquent nor edifying … for he meddled not with the Gospel, nor with the Epistle, nor no part of Scripture’ (William Dalby in Harl. MS. 353, f. 141, where the writer proceeds to report ‘four or five of the chief points of his sermon;’ Machyn, pp. 41, 332–3; Greyfriars Chron. p. 83; Wriothesley, Chron. ii. 29; Chron. Queen Jane, p. 18). Watson's services as a preacher were, however, constantly in request, and he always drew large audiences (Machyn, pp. 128, 131, 132, 166). On 10 May 1554 John Cawood published at London Watson's ‘Twoo notable Sermons made the thirde and fyfte Fridays in Lent last past before the Quenes highnes concerninge the reall presence of Christes body and bloode in the Blessed Sacramente.’ Ridley wrote some annotations on these sermons, which he sent to Bradford (Bradford, Works, ii. 207–8; Ridley, Works, pp. 538–40); and Robert Crowley [q. v.] in 1569 published ‘A Setting Open of the Subtyle Sophistrie of Thomas Watson … which he used in hys two Sermons … upon the reall presence,’ London, 4to. Crowley prints Watson's sermons passage by passage, with an answer to each (cf. Strype, Eccl. Mem. III. i. 115–25). When, in January 1557–8, convocation determined on the publication of a series of expositions of catholic doctrine somewhat similar to the ‘Homilies’ of 1547, Watson revised the sermons he had preached at court in the previous year and published them as ‘Holsome and Catholyke doctryne concerninge the Seven Sacraments of Chrystes Churche … set forthe in the maner of Short Sermons.’ The royal license to Robert Caley, the printer, was dated 30 April 1558 (Lansd. MS. 980, f. 302), and the first edition appeared in June following; a second edition followed on 10 Feb. 1558–9, and a third (described in the ‘British Museum Catalogue’ as the first) in the same month. They were reprinted by Father T. E. Bridgett in 1876 (London, 8vo).

Meanwhile, on 25 Sept. 1553, Watson was commissioned by Gardiner, as chancellor of Cambridge University, to inquire into the religious condition of the colleges (Strype, Parker, i. 82–3), and three days later he was admitted master of St. John's, Lever having fled beyond seas; he was created D.D. in the following year. In the convocation that met at St. Paul's on 23 Oct. 1553 Watson strenuously upheld the Roman catholic interpretation of the real presence against James Haddon [q. v.] and others (part of the disputation is preserved in Harl. MS. 422, ff. 38 sqq.; cf. Philpot, Works, p. 168; Dixon, Hist. iv. 78 sqq.). On 18 Nov. he was presented to the deanery of Durham in succession to Robert Horne (1519?–1580) [q. v.] In April 1554 he was sent to Oxford to dispute with Cranmer, Ridley, and Latimer, and on the 14th was incorporated D.D. in that university. He also took part in the proceedings against Hooper and Rogers, and is said to have urged Gardiner to arrest Dr. Edwin Sandys [q. v.], afterwards archbishop of York. He resigned the mastership of St. John's in May 1554, and on 28 Aug. 1556 was presented to the rectory of Bechingwall All Saints (Rymer, xv. 444). On 7 Dec. 1556 Mary issued a license for filling up the see of Lincoln, rendered vacant by the translation of John White (1511–1564) [q. v.] to Winchester; Watson was elected, and on the 24th of the same month was granted the temporalities of the see. The papal bull of confirmation was dated 24 March 1556–7, but the bishop was not consecrated until 15 August. In the interval Watson was one of the delegates appointed by Cardinal Pole to visit Cambridge University in January 1556–7; the visitation was disgraced by the trial and condemnation as heretics of the dead Bucer and Fagius, and by the exhumation and burning of their bodies (Lamb, Documents, 1828; Cooper, Annals of Cambridge).

Watson is said (Gee, Elizabethan Clergy, 1898, p. 30) to have been the first sufferer for religion under Elizabeth, and to have been confined to his house for preaching an incautious sermon at Queen Mary's funeral; but Watson is here confused with John White, bishop of Winchester. Watson was absent through ill-health from the parliament which met in January 1558–9, but he took a prominent part in the debate on religion held in the choir of Westminster Abbey on the morning of 3 April. The conference broke down because Sir Nicholas Bacon, who presided, insisted that the Roman catholics should begin the discussion. They refused, and ‘the two good bishops [Watson and White], inflamed with ardent zeal for God, said most boldly that “they would not consent nor ever change their opinion from any fear.” They were answered that this was the will of the queen, and that they would be punished for their disobedience’ (Cal. State Papers, Venetian, 1558–80, No. 58). They were at once arrested and sent to the Tower (Machyn, Diary, p. 192; Wriothesley, Chron. ii. 144; Zurich Letters, i. 13; Acts P. C. vii. 78; State Papers, Dom. Eliz. iii. 52).

Camden's story, repeated by Strype and others, that the two bishops threatened to excommunicate Elizabeth, has been disputed by Roman catholic historians. The incident on which it is probably based is reported by the Venetian ambassador. White ‘said “the new method of officiating was heretical and schismatic.” Then they replied “is the queen heretical and schismatic?” And thus in anger they sent him back to the Tower’ (Cal. State Papers, Venetian, 1558–80, No. 82). In June Watson was released, and allowed ten days to decide whether he would take the new oath of supremacy. He refused, and on the 26th was deprived of the bishopric of Lincoln (Machyn, p. 201; Cal. State Papers, Simancas i. 79, 82, Venetian 1558–80 No. 91). He was again committed to the Tower on 20 May 1560. In May 1563 he was brought before the ecclesiastical commissioners, but remained steadfast in his refusal to take the oath. On 6 Sept. following he was handed over to the custody of Grindal, bishop of London, because of the plague, and a month later was transferred to the keeping of Coxe, the bishop of Ely. On 9 Jan. 1564–5 he was once more committed to the Tower (Acts P. C. vii. 183). On 5 July 1574, being then in the Marshalsea, on giving a bond not to ‘induce any one to any opinion or act to be done contrary to the laws established in the realm for causes of religion,’ he was transferred to the custody of his brother John Watson, a citizen of London (Lansd. MS. 980, f. 302; Acts P. C. viii. 264). Three years later the council accused him of abusing his liberty by suffering evil-disposed persons to resort to him, and by perverting them in religion, which confirms Dod's statement that, ‘while Bishop Watson lived, he was consulted and regarded as the chief superior of the English catholic clergy, and, as far as his confinement would permit, exercised the functions of his character.’ He was accordingly, on 28 July, committed to the custody of the bishop of Winchester, being allowed his own Roman catholic attendant, “uppon consideracion that it is less dainger to lett one already corrupted then a sound person to attend uppon him’ (ib. x. 16). In January 1578–9, at the bishop of Winchester's request, Watson was transferred to the keeping of the bishop of Rochester. He now entered into correspondence with Douai, and this, coupled with the invasion of the jesuits and missionary priests, led to severer measures against him. In August 1580 he was committed to close keeping at Wisbech Castle, where his remaining days were embittered by the quarrel between the jesuits and seculars which developed into the famous archpriest controversy. Watson died at Wisbech Castle on 27 Sept. 1584, and was buried in Wisbech parish church.

Watson was perhaps, after Tunstall and Pole, the greatest of Queen Mary's bishops. De Feria described him in 1559 as ‘more spirited and learned than all the rest.’ Godwin and Strype refer to him as ‘an austere, or rather a sour and churlish man.’ The austerity may be taken for granted, but the gloss is due to religious antipathy. Ascham spoke warmly of Watson's friendship for him, and bore high testimony to his scholarship. Besides the works already mentioned, Watson is credited with a translation of the first book of the ‘Odyssey,’ which is now lost, and a rendering of a sermon of St. Cyprian which is extant in Cambridge University Library MS. KK. 1. 3, art. 17, and in Baker MS. xii. 107. A treatise entitled ‘Certayne Experiments and Medicines,’ extant in Brit. Mus. Sloane MS. 62, art. 1, is ascribed in an almost contemporary hand to Watson, and his ‘Disputations’ at London in 1553 and at Oxford in 1554 are printed in Foxe's ‘Actes and Monuments.’ The collections on the bishops of Durham, assigned to him by Tanner and extant in Cottonian MS. Vitellius C. ix., are really by Christopher Watson [q. v.]

[An elaborate life of Watson is prefixed by the Rev. T. E. Bridgett to his reprint of Watson's Holsome and Catholyke Doctrine, 1876, and is expanded in Bridgett and Knox's Story of the Catholic Hierarchy deposed by Elizabeth, 1889, pp. 120–207. See also authorities cited in text and in Cooper's Athenæ Cantabr. i. 491; a few additional facts are contained in the recently published Acts of the Privy Council, 1558–82; Cal. State Papers, Simancas, vol. i., Venetian, 1558–80; Dixon's Hist. of the Church; and Gee's Elizabethan Clergy, 1898.]

A. F. P.

Dictionary of National Biography, Errata (1904), p.277
N.B.— f.e. stands for from end and l.l. for last line

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34 i 5 Watson, Thomas (1513-1584): for Addit. MS. read Sloane MS.