Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Fletcher, Richard (d.1596)
FLETCHER, RICHARD, D.D. (d. 1596), bishop of London, was son of a Richard Fletcher, ordained by Ridley in 1550, and vicar of Bishops Stortford till his deprivation by Mary in 1555. In July of the same year he and his son witnessed the martyrdom of Christopher Wade at Dartford in Kent, of which an account signed by both was furnished to Foxe (Acts and Mon. iii. 317, ed. 1684). On the accession of Elizabeth the elder Fletcher became vicar of Cranbrook, Kent. Young Fletcher was appointed by Archbishop Parker to the first of the four Norfolk fellowships founded by him in Corpus Christi College, Cambridge; on the college books he is styled ‘Norfolciensis.’ He was admitted a pensioner of Trinity College, Cambridge, 16 Nov. 1562, and a scholar in 1563. He became B.A. in 1565–6, M.A. in 1569, B.D. in 1576, and D.D. in 1581. He was made fellow of Corpus Christi in 1569. In 1572 he was incorporated M.A. of Oxford, and in the same year was appointed to the prebendal stall of Islington in St. Paul's Cathedral. According to Masters (Hist. of Corpus Christi College, pp. 285–8) he received this stall from Matthew Parker, son of the archbishop, who appears to have had the patronage made over to him (for this turn) to carry out his father's design of getting prebendal stalls annexed by act of parliament to his Norfolk fellowships. He vacated his fellowship on his marriage with Elizabeth Holland, which took place in Cranbrook Church in 1573. In 1574 he was minister of Rye in Sussex, where his son John [q. v.] the dramatist and three of his elder children were born. He was introduced by Archbishop Parker to Queen Elizabeth, who was attracted by his handsome person, courtly manners, and ability as a preacher.
Sir John Harington says of him ‘he could preach well and speak boldly, and yet keep decorum. He knew what would please the queen, and would adventure on that though that offended others.’ Elizabeth's favour insured rapid preferment. On 19 June 1575 he was presented by the queen to the living of Bradenham, Buckinghamshire. In 1581 he became one of her chaplains in ordinary. Whitgift recommended him unsuccessfully for the deanery of Windsor. On 15 Nov. 1583 he was appointed to the deanery of Peterborough, and on 23 Jan. 1585–6 he was installed prebendary of Stow Longa in Lincoln Cathedral, and in the same year became rector of Barnack, Northamptonshire, on the presentation of Sir Thomas Cecil. He also held the rich living of Algarkirk in South Lincolnshire, which, together with his stall, on his becoming bishop of Bristol, he was allowed to retain in commendam (Calendar of State Papers, Dom. p. 663). He was also chaplain to Archbishop Whitgift, and in that capacity is stated to have helped to draw up the original of the present 55th canon, ordaining the form of bidding prayer to be used by preachers before sermons. He is said, however, the canon notwithstanding, to have used a form of his own composing. He held the deanery of Peterborough for six years. He preached before the commissioners for the trial of Mary Queen of Scots, in the chapel of Fotheringay Castle, 12 Oct. 1586, drew up a detailed report of the examination of the queen, and officiated as chaplain at her execution, 8 Feb. 1586–7. He obtruded his ‘unwelcome ministrations’ upon Mary with the insolence of unfeeling bigotry, and the ‘stern Amen’ with which his solitary voice echoed the Earl of Kent's imprecation, ‘So perish all the queen's enemies,’ was an evident bidding for high preferment, followed up without delay by a sermon (preserved in manuscript in the library of St. John's College, Cambridge) delivered before Elizabeth immediately after the execution of her rival. Two years later Elizabeth resolved to confer upon her ‘well-spoken’ chaplain the see of Bristol, which her father founded in 1542 and she had kept vacant thirty years. He was consecrated by Whitgift in Lambeth Chapel 14 Dec. 1589 (Strype, Whitgift, i. 616). According to Sir John Harington, his elevation was helped forward by some of the queen's court, who were on the look-out for compliant candidates, and obtained the bishopric for him on terms by which he almost secularised the see (Collier, Church Hist. vii. 222; Strype, Whitgift, ii. 112). He took part in the consecration of Bishop Coldwell of Salisbury, 16 Dec. 1591. Fletcher had a house of his own at Chelsea, where he chiefly resided, spending much more of his time at court than in his diocese. Here his first wife, Elizabeth, died, December 1592, shortly after the birth of her daughter Mary (baptised 14 Oct.), and was buried in Chelsea Church beneath the altar. After three years' stay at Bristol he was translated to the much richer see of Worcester, his election taking place 24 Jan. 1592–3.
In June 1594 the see of London became vacant by the death of John Aylmer [q. v.] Fletcher wrote (29 June) to Lord Burghley, giving reasons for his translation thither. He ‘delighted in’ London, had been educated there, was beloved by many of the citizens to whom he could be useful, and would be near the court, ‘where his presence had become habitual and looked for’ (Strype, Whitgift, ii. 214–15). The queen signified her assent to his translation, and as bishop-elect of London he took part with Whitgift and others in drawing up the so-called ‘Lambeth Articles,’ happily never accepted by the church, in which some of the most offensive of the peculiar doctrines of Calvinism were dogmatically laid down. The queen condemned both the articles and their authors very severely. Fletcher soon offended her still more by an ill-advised second marriage. She objected to the marriage of all bishops, and thought it specially indecorous in one two years a widower to contract a second marriage, and that with a widow. The new wife was the widow of Sir Richard Baker of Sissinghurst in Kent, and sister of Sir George Gifford, one of the gentlemen pensioners attached to the court. She was a very handsome woman, probably wealthy, ‘a fine lady,’ but with a tarnished reputation. A very coarse satirical ballad preserved by Cole (MS. xxxi. 205) says of the bishop, ‘He of a Lais doth a Lucrece make.’ Fletcher was forbidden the court, and the queen demanded from the primate his suspension from the exercise of all episcopal functions. The inhibition was issued on 23 Feb. 1594–5, hardly more than a month after his confirmation as bishop of London. The next day he entreated Burghley's good offices for his restitution to the royal favour in a letter of the most degrading adulation and self-abasement (Strype, Whitgift, ii. 216). Through Burghley's mediation the suspension was relaxed at the end of six months, and the queen became partially reconciled to him. He continued piteous appeals to Burghley for re-admission to the court. ‘His greatest comfort seculor’ (sic, Fletcher's spelling in his autograph letters is not only irregular but ignorant) ‘for twenty years past had been to live in her Highness' gratious aspect and favour. Now it was a year all but a week or two since he had seen her’ (ib. p. 218). This letter was written on 7 Jan. 1595–6. Elizabeth is said to have visited him at Chelsea, but he appears to have been still excluded from court. He had so far resumed his official position as to assist at the consecration of Bishop Day of Winchester and Bishop Vaughan of Bangor, 25 Jan. 1596; in March he issued orders regulating the exercise of their authority by ecclesiastical officers within his diocese (Collier, Eccl. Hist. ix. 352–6), and in the following May he ventured to ask for the appointment of his brother, Dr. Giles Fletcher the elder [q. v.], as an extraordinary master of requests (Lansd. MSS. lxxxii. 28). But his spirit was broken. On 13 June 1596 he assisted at the consecration of Bilson as bishop of Worcester. He sat in commission on 15 June till 6 P.M., and was smoking a pipe of tobacco (of which he was immoderately fond, and to which Camden, prejudiced against a novel habit, groundlessly attributes his end) when he suddenly exclaimed to his servant, ‘Boy, I die,’ and breathed his last. He was buried in St. Paul's Cathedral without any memorial, leaving eight children, several of whom were still very young. He died insolvent, with large debts due to the queen and others, his whole estate consisting of his house at Chelsea, plate worth 400l., and other property amounting to 500l. A memorial on behalf of his family was at once presented to the queen. It was urged that his debts were caused partly by his rapid promotions, involving heavy payments of first-fruits, partly by ‘allowances or gratifications’ made to members of her court, by her desire, while he had spent the whole revenue of his see on hospitality and other duties incumbent on his office. His death, chiefly due to the queen's anger at his marriage, had atoned for the offence so given. His children had no resources, and their uncle with nine children of his own had barely enough for his family (Green, Calendar of State Papers, Dom. June 1596). What was the result of this appeal to Elizabeth's generosity we are not informed. His widow took for her third husband Sir Stephen Thornhurst, knight, and dying in 1609 was buried in Canterbury Cathedral. Five of his eight children were: Nathanael (b. 1575), Theophilus (b. 1577), Elizabeth (b. 1578), John, the famous dramatist [q. v.], and Maria (b. in London 1592). His will is dated 26 Oct. 1593, and was proved 23 June 1596.
Camden styles Fletcher ‘præsul splendidus.’ Fuller describes him as ‘one of a comely person and goodly presence. … He loved to ride the great horse, and had much skill in managing thereof; condemned for being proud (such was his natural stately gait) by such as knew him not, and commended for humility by those acquainted with him. He lost the queen's favour by reason of his second marriage, and died suddenly more of grief than any other disease’ (Fuller, Church Hist. v. 231).
From the leading part he took in the composition of the ‘Lambeth Articles,’ and his patronage of Robert Abbot [q. v.], afterwards bishop of Salisbury, his theology was evidently Calvinistic. Fletcher published nothing. The manuscripts of the two sermons (see above) preached at Fotheringay and before Elizabeth after Mary's execution are in the library of St. John's College, Cambridge (i. 30), together with (1) a relation of the proceedings against the queen of Scots at Fotheringay on 12, 14, and 20 Oct., (2) a relation of divers matters that passed at Fotheringay on 8 Feb. 1586–7, and of the execution of Mary, and (3) the manner of the solemnity of the funeral of Mary on 1 Aug. Strype has printed his exhortation to Mary upon her execution (Annals, iii. i. 560), and Gunton his prayer at the execution (Hist. of Peterborough, p. 75). His articles of visitation are to be found in Strype (Annals, iv. 350), and some of his letters to Burghley (Strype, Whitgift, ii. 204–57).[Strype's Annals; Cooper's Athenæ Cantabr. ii. 205, 548; Dyce's Beaumont and Fletcher, i. 7, 38; Faulkner's Chelsea, ii. 127, 197; Fuller's Ch. Hist. v. 231; Collier's Ch. Hist. vii. 222, 396, ix. 352; Milman's St. Paul's, p. 301; Camden's Annals, sub an. 1596; Cole MSS. xxvii. 22, xxxi. 305; Masters's Hist. of C.C.C. (ed. Lamb), p. 323.]