company, and a misprision of heresy to give him a civil salutation as he walked the streets’ (Heylin, ed. 1668, p. 54).
Laud was not the only champion of dissentient views that Abbot thought it necessary to attack at the time. ‘A certain audacious person who termeth himself Doctour Hill,’ a seminary priest, had represented in a book printed at Antwerp that popery was ‘the true faith of Christ,’ and that England was ‘a sinke of wickednesse beyond all the nations of the earth’ (see Foley, Records, vi. 192). The volume was a new version of Richard Bristow’s ‘Motives inducing to the Catholike faith,’ ‘a book of great vogue with the papists’ (Strype, Annals, II. i. 498). ‘At the intreaty of others,’ Abbot spent a year and a half (1603–4) in preparing a refutation of Bristow’s and Hill’s logic, and late in 1604 he published at Oxford, with a dedication to Lord Buckhurst, who had just been created Earl of Dorset, a fiercely worded pamphlet, ‘unmasking’ Dr. Hill, and showing ten of his reasons ‘to be very weake, and upon examination most insufficient for the purpose.’ An eloquent eulogy on the reign of Queen Elizabeth is to be found in its pages, and a justifiable attack upon Cardinal Allen’s writings. A continuation of the work was partly written, but was never sent to press. The heated temper in which Abbot conducted controversial discussion did not always commend itself to the undergraduates, and when holding the office of vice-chancellor for the third time in 1605, he had to commit one hundred and forty of them to prison for disrespectfully sitting ‘with their hats on’ in his presence at St. Mary’s Church (Nichols, Progresses, i. 559).
In 1604 Abbot’s scholarship had been put to a more dignified employment. Early in that year a new translation of the Bible had been resolved on at the Hampton Court conference, and Abbot, with seven other Oxford graduates, was entrusted with the responsible task of revising the older translations of the four gospels, the Acts, and the Apocalypse. But these labours did not withdraw him from polemical literature or public affairs. In 1606, Abbot, as dean of Winchester, attended convocation. The assembly was engaged in examining a work by Dr. Overall, ‘concerning the government of God’s catholic church and the kingdoms of the whole world.’ The book vigorously advocated the doctrine of non-resistance to de facto rulers; it confirmed its conclusion by a misty interpretation of Old Testament history, and was imagined to strike a crushing blow at the political theories of the Roman catholics. Convocation by a unanimous vote expressed its high approval of the volume, but James I was dissatisfied with this result: he feared that Overall’s doctrine would confirm every successful usurper in undisturbed possession of the throne. Abbot had doubtless taken an active part in the discussion, and he had already come into personal relations with the king; once, in 1603, he had carried to him at Woodstock the congratulations of the university on his accession; and again, in 1605, he had been much in his company when the king had been entertained at Oxford by the chancellor, the Earl of Dorset, and had honoured with his presence several formal theological debates over which Abbot had presided. Upon Abbot, therefore, James conferred the distinction of addressing him a letter, partly written in his own hand, stating his views on the action of convocation. ‘Good Dr. Abbot,’ the king began, ‘I cannot abstain to give you my judgment of your proceedings in your convocation, as you call it.’ And he proceeded to point out that he himself was no mere de facto ruler, but owed his throne to the highest claims of hereditary right. The letter marked a distinct stage in the growth of Abbot’s reputation.
In 1608 his patron, the Earl of Dorset, died, and on 20 May Abbot preached the sermon at his funeral in Westminster Abbey; it was published soon afterwards at the earnest solicitations ‘of diuers of speciall qualitie and note,’ with a dedication to Cicely, the widowed countess. But Abbot immediately found a new and equally influential patron. He became chaplain to the Earl of Dunbar, lord high treasurer of Scotland, who, as Sir George Hume, had become the intimate friend of James I before his accession to the English throne, and while in attendance upon him Abbot performed several important political services. Lord Dunbar had for some years devoted himself to the re-establishment of episcopacy in Scotland, a project in which the king was deeply interested, and he had so far succeeded as to have obtained an act of parliament for the creation of a number of bishops, but the part they were to play in the presbyterian system of government, which was to remain, as far as possible, undisturbed, was not yet satisfactorily settled. In July 1608, a general assembly was summoned at Linlithgow, to give thorough effect to the episcopal reforms, and Abbot, with Dr. Higgins, was ordered to accompany Lord Dunbar to put the claims of episcopacy before the Scotch ministers. Abbot was well received at Linlithgow. ‘The English doctors,’ says Calderwood, the historian of the Scotch church, ‘seemed to