Lord Salisbury that the king had chosen the bishop of London to be archbishop, ‘as being an able man, and recommended by the late Earl of Dunbar, whose memory is dear to his majesty.’ Speed, the contemporary historian, speaks of his promotion as due to the ‘embassage’ in Scotland; and Secretary Calvert wrote in March that ‘by a strong north wind coming out of Scotland, Abbot was blown over the Thames to Lambeth.’ The appointment was received with general astonishment and misgiving. Abbot himself was wonderstruck. ‘Preferment did fly upon him,’ says Fuller, ‘without his expectation.’ And if the Anglican party were depressed, the puritans were content to conceal their enthusiasm. His conduct in Scotland, to which his promotion was ascribed on all hands, had not raised him in their estimation. He was stated, it is true, to be ‘of a more fatherly presence than those who might have been his fathers for age in the church of England,’ but one ground of his unfitness was urged on many sides. ‘He was never incumbent in any living with cure of souls;’ he had not experienced the sufferings of the lower clergy, and it was feared that his want of practical training would prevent him from sympathising with their trials and difficulties. His one-sided tone of thought was more likely to render him inadequate for the post. The threatened disruption in the church of England, to which no one who mixed in public affairs could at the time close his eyes, surrounded the primacy with dangers which a statesman’s conciliatory spirit alone could meet with effect; and of that spirit Abbot had shown no certain sign.
On 4 March 1610–11 Abbot was formally nominated to the see of Canterbury, and on 9 April was ‘very honorably installed at Lambeth’ (Nichols, Progresses, ii. 424 n.; Le Neve, Fasti; see Rawlinson MS. at Oxford, C. 155, No. 54). On 30 April he took his seat in the high commission court, and on 23 June was sworn at Greenwich of the privy council. At first gloomy forebodings seemed unfounded. At court he met with a good reception. The king treated him with cordiality; the queen, who could have had no affection for his religious views, was ‘graciously pleased to give him more credit than ordinary, which . . . she continued to the time of her death.’ Henry, Prince of Wales, regarded him with the veneration that all who, like himself, approved his theology acknowledged to be his due. Nor was he without friends among the officers of state. The Earl of Salisbury, lord high treasurer, lord chancellor Ellesmere, and Sir Ralph Winwood, who became in later years secretary of state, sympathised with his opinions, and a lavish hospitality at Lambeth, which James I strongly recommended him to maintain, secured him the favour of many ‘lords spiritual and temporal, divers privy councillors and men of highest rank.’ But enemies of Abbot were also to be found among the king’s councillors. Sir Robert Carr, the king’s favourite, afterwards Viscount Rochester and Earl of Somerset, viewed his stern integrity with suspicion. Men like the Earl of Northampton, once Lord Henry Howard, a secret papist and pensioner of Spain, did not hide their disappointment at his elevation. Similarly the bench of bishops was not without malevolent spectators of his recent successes; and among the judges with whom he was brought into close contact, Abbot found it impossible to keep on friendly terms with Sir Edward Coke.
Abbot flung himself with vigour into the various duties of his office, but his early actions showed much want of tact and prevision. He saw that the Calvinist theology was losing its hold on the upper classes of society, and that Arminianism was taking its place; but, with characteristic narrowness of view, he charged the newer doctrines with either Roman catholic or sceptical tendencies. To destroy them utterly by means of the high commission court and of the other arbitrary tribunals in which he took his seat was his immediate aim. ‘Sentences of correction,’ says Hacket, the biographer of Williams, ‘or rather of destruction, have their epocha in the predominance of Abbot in that [the commission] court.’ From the catholics bitter cries at once rose. Recusants’ fines were unceasingly inflicted, and defaulters for payment imprisoned. ‘They may expect,’ wrote the Earl of Northampton of some catholic prisoners in 1612, ‘little mercy when the metropolitan is mediator.’ On 10 June 1615 he summoned a prebendary of Christ Church, Oxford, to appear before the king on a charge of coquetting with popery because he had complained of the prevalence of puritanism, and had failed to denounce its antithesis with fitting severity or frequency. In 1613 he came into open collision with the Spanish ambassador. He imprisoned in his own palace a lady, Donna Luisa de Carvajal, an enthusiastic benefactress of the English catholic college of Flanders, who was staying at the Spanish embassy, and appeal had to be made to James to obtain her release. He employed spies in all parts of England, and he did not fear to attack men in the highest stations. He obtained full information of the relations existing between the Earl of Northampton, the lord privy seal, and Spain, and