Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Overall, John

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OVERALL, JOHN, D.D. (1560–1619), bishop of Norwich, younger son of George Overall (d. July 1561), was born at Hadleigh, Suffolk, and baptised on 2 March 1560. He was educated at Hadleigh grammar school, where John Bois [q. v.] was his schoolfellow. With Bois he entered at St. John's College, Cambridge, in 1575, was admitted scholar of Trinity College, Cambridge, on 18 April 1578, graduating B.A. in 1579 and M.A. in 1582. The registers of Trinity show the steps of his advance: minor fellow, 2 Oct. 1581; major fellow, 30 March 1582; fourth lector, 2 Oct. 1583; third prælector, 2 Oct. 1585; ‘prælector Græcus,’ 2 Oct. 1586; ‘prælector mathematicus,’ 2 Oct. 1588; seneschal, 17 Dec. 1589; junior dean, 14 Oct. 1591; ‘prælector primarius,’ 2 Oct. 1595; senior fellow, 6 May 1596, and at the same time regius professor of theology and D.D. He had taken orders by 1592, when he was presented to the vicarage of Epping, Essex, by Sir Thomas Heneage (d. 1595) [q. v.] He was not given to preaching. Fuller informs us that Overall told his father, Thomas Fuller the elder, with whom he was very intimate, that, having to preach before the queen, ‘he had spoken Latin so long it was troublesome to him to speak English in a continued oration.’

Overall showed himself a moderate man in matters of Calvinistic controversy, and came into collision with William Perkins (1558–1602) [q. v.], who carried Calvinism to an extreme. Hence his election to the regius professorship of theology (which he held till 1607), in succession to William Whitaker, D.D. (1548–1595) [q. v.], was a sign of protest against the theology of the Lambeth articles (20 Nov. 1595) drawn up by Whitgift in concert with Whitaker and others. When the doctrine of these nine articles was impugned (1596) by Peter Baro [q. v.], Overall ‘freely and openly confessed his consent with him.’ At Easter 1598 he was appointed to the mastership of Catharine Hall, Cambridge, which he held till 1607. His elevation to the deanery of St. Paul's on 29 May 1602 (holding with it the prebend of Totendale in St. Paul's Cathedral), in the room of Alexander Nowell [q. v.], was on the recommendation of Sir Fulke Greville [q. v.] It enabled him to take an important part in the ecclesiastical settlement which followed the death of Elizabeth. In 1603 he received the rectory of Clothall, Hertfordshire (which he held till 1615), and in 1604 the rectory of Therfield, Hertfordshire (which he held till 1614); both were served by curates. At the Hampton Court conference he spoke (16 Jan. 1604) on the controversy concerning predestination, referring to the disputes in which he had been engaged at Cambridge, and won the approval of James. On the same day the puritan champion, John Rainolds D.D. [q.v.], pleaded for an enlargement of the church catechism of 1549. This was carried out in the same year by the addition of the section dealing with the sacraments. It is admitted that this important section was Overall's work; with slight verbal revision in 1662, it remains as he left it.

Overall was elected prolocutor of the lower house in the convocation of Canterbury on the elevation in March 1605 of Thomas Ravis, D.D. [q. v.], to the see of Gloucester. In 1606 convocation drew up certain canons and constitutions relating to civil government, with statement of the principles on which they were grounded. The suggestion of these canons proceeded from James I, who wanted moral support for his efforts in favour of the Dutch republic, and therefore asked of the clergy their ‘judgments how far a Christian and protestant king may concur to assist his neighbours to shake off their obedience to their own sovereign upon the account of oppression’ (James's letter to Abbot). In drawing the canons, convocation had in view the ‘gunpowder plot’ of the previous November, and the principles of resistance to kings then advocated by Roman catholic writers. Thirty-six canons, forming a first book, were passed unanimously by both houses of convocation in both provinces. Two other books were passed unanimously by the lower house of the convocation of Canterbury, as is attested by Overall as prolocutor. That they went no further was probably due to James's refusal to sanction the first book, and this on the ground of the doctrine laid down in canon xxviii. While absolutely denying to subjects the right of resistance, this canon nevertheless affirms that ‘new forms of government’ originating in successful rebellion have divine authority. James thought this canon struck at his own title, as merely de facto and not de jure; and, further, that it gave the stamp of divine authority to proceedings in themselves evil. The canons accordingly passed out of sight for more than eighty years. A copy of the three books in Overall's hand came, at his death, into the possession of his secretary, John Cosin [q. v.], afterwards bishop of Durham, who bequeathed it to the Cosin Library at Durham. The original manuscript of the first book passed at the death of Richard Bancroft, D.D. [q. v.], archbishop of Canterbury, into the Lambeth Library, where it was noted by Laud. William Sancroft [q. v.], who had been a prebendary of Durham, was aware of the existence of Overall's manuscript. In 1690, ‘a few days before his suspension’ (1 Aug. 1690), Sancroft published Overall's manuscript, collated with the Lambeth manuscript, under the title ‘Bishop Overall's Convocation Book, MDCVI, concerning the Government of God's Catholick Church and the Kingdoms of the whole World,’ &c., 1690, 4to, with portraits of Overall and Sancroft, engraved by R. White (reprinted in ‘Library of Anglo-Catholic Theology,’ Oxford, 1844, 8vo, with portrait of Overall). With incredible ignorance of the history of the canons, Sancroft relied on their statement of the doctrine of non-resistance as justifying the attitude of the nonjurors. The only effect of the publication was the removal of the not very deeply rooted scruples of William Sherlock, D.D. [q. v.], who forthwith took the oaths to the de facto government.

Overall took part in the 1611 revision of the translation of the Bible, being one of the company of ten who sat at Westminster for the revision of the Old Testament up to 2 Kings inclusive. On 14 March 1614 he was elected bishop of Coventry and Lichfield, and consecrated on 3 April. In the city archives of Coventry is his letter to the mayor (1615), recommending a scholar of the grammar school to a vacant exhibition at his old college of St. John's, Cambridge. Cosin was his secretary and librarian from 1616. On 21 May 1618 he was elected bishop of Norwich; the election was confirmed on 30 Sept. Brief as was his episcopate at Norwich, it left its mark. Fuller describes him as ‘a discreet presser of conformity.’ His ‘Articles to be enquired of in the Diocese of Norwich in the Ordinarie Visitation,’ &c., Cambridge and London, 1619, 4to, exemplify this. He succeeded where his predecessor, John Jegon [q. v.], had failed. Birch, on the authority of a letter by Cosin, details his procedure in regard to non-episcopal ordination. Peter De Laune, who had received presbyterian ordination at Leyden, applied to him for institution to a benefice in his diocese. Overall advised him to take counsel's opinion as to the legality of this course, but said he was prepared to ordain him conditionally, following the form for conditional baptism, or ‘if you will adventure the orders that you have, I will admit your presentation and give you institution.’ There was some flaw in De Laune's presentation, but he was subsequently ‘admitted into another benefice without any new ordination.’

Overall died on 12 May 1619, and was buried on the south side of the choir of his cathedral, near the steps to the altar. In 1669 a monument bearing his bust was affixed to the pillar (eighteenth, south side) nearest his grave, at the cost of Cosin, who wrote the Latin inscription. A portrait, engraved by W. Hollar, is given in Sparrow's ‘Rationale of the Common Prayer,’ 1657; and another, by R. White, is prefixed to Sancroft's ‘Convocation Book,’ 1690. Overall married (probably in 1607) Anne, daughter of Edward Orwell, of a Lancashire family, but left no issue.

In addition to the above, the following pieces by Overall were published posthumously:

  1. ‘Articuli Lambethani … annexa est … Sententia … de Prædestinatione,’ &c., 1631, 12mo; 1651, 12mo; the ‘Sententia … de Prædestinatione,’ &c., was reprinted 1694, 12mo; 1696, 12mo; 1700, 12mo; 1720, 12mo; translated in ‘A Defence of the Thirty-nine Articles,’ &c., 1700, 12mo, by J. Ellis.
  2. ‘Quæstio utrum animæ Patrum ante Christum defunctorum fuerant in Cœlo,’ &c., in the ‘Apparatus ad Origines Ecclesiasticas,’ &c., Oxford, 1635, fol., by Richard Montagu [q. v.]; reprinted, with another treatise, as ‘Prælectiones … de Patrum, & Christi, Anima, et de Antichristo,’ &c., in ‘The Doctrines of a Middle State,’ &c., 1721, fol., by Archibald Campbell, (d. 1744) [q. v.]

Overall was a correspondent of Gerard Voss and Hugo Grotius; some of his letters are in ‘Præstantium … Virorum Epistolæ,’ &c. According to Montagu, Voss derived from Overall materials for his ‘Historiæ de Controversiis quas Pelagius ejusque reliquiæ moverunt libri septem,’ &c., Leyden, 1618, 4to. In the libraries of St. John's and Christ's Colleges, Cambridge, are unpublished manuscripts by Overall.

[Fuller's Worthies, 1662, p. 61 (Suffolk); Heylyn's Aerius Redivivus, 1670, p. 372; Parr's Life of Ussher, 1686, App. pp. 4 seq. (four letters from Grotius to Overall); Kettlewell's Life, 1718, pp. 304, 306, 309; Burnet's Own Time, 1734, ii. 213; Birch's Life of Tillotson, 1753, pp. 170 seq.; Peck's Desiderata Curiosa, 1779, ii. 328; Blomefield's Norfolk, 1806, iii. 564 seq.; Clarendon's Hist., 1826, i. 157; Collier's Ecclesiastical Hist. (Barham), 1840, vii. 337; Cardwell's Conferences on the Book of Common Prayer, 1841, p. 186; Lathbury's Hist. of Convocation, 1853, pp. 232 seq.; Pigot's Hadleigh, 1860, pp. 119 sq.; Baker's Hist. of St. John's College (Mayor), 1869, i. 258 sq., 670 sq.; Poole's Coventry, 1870, p. 376; Urwick's Nonconformity in Herts, 1884, pp. 784, 819, 822; Perry's Hist. of the English Church, Second Period, 1891, pp. 354, 384; Notes and Queries, 8th ser. viii. 64; extracts from Hadleigh Parish Register, per the Very Rev. E. Spooner, and from the registers of Trinity College, Cambridge, per W. White, esq.; information from the master of St. Catharine's College, Cambridge.]

A. G.