Page:Dictionary of National Biography volume 01.djvu/25

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Abbot
Abbot
11

boldly challenged him to deny his belief in papal doctrines at the council board in 1612. At the same time the earl was trying to suppress damaging reports about himself by a suit of defamation in the Star Chamber against several persons who publicly called him a papist, and Abbot is said to have produced in open court a letter from Northampton to Cardinal Bellarmine, in which he declared that his ‘heart stood with the papists;’ the death of the earl, which took place in 1614, has been somewhat erroneously attributed by a few writers to the shock of this disclosure. Nor was Abbot willing to see the authority of the high commission court in the smallest degree abridged. In 1611 a Sir William Chauncy had been charged with adultery before that tribunal, and had, on disobeying its order to provide a maintenance for his wife, been sent to prison. Chauncy had appealed to the lord chief justice of the common pleas against the high commission court’s judgment, which Coke asserted to be illegal. Abbot tried in vain to change Coke’s opinion, and although the king finally settled the point in the archbishop’s favour, Coke treated Abbot’s protest with irritating indifference. In 1616 Abbot was one of the commissioners appointed to report on Coke’s opinion as to the interpretation of the præmunire statutes, and declared against it. Abbot was similarly anxious to enforce the utmost rigours that the law allowed him in cases of alleged scepticism, and in this procedure likewise Coke attempted to thwart him. In 1611 two ‘blasphemous heretics,’ as he called them, Bartholomew Legate and Edward Wightman, were brought before his court. Abbot was from the first resolved that no mercy should be shown them. Their offence was mainly Arianism, and on 21 Jan. 1611–2 he wrote to lord chancellor Ellesmere that a commission of three or four judges ought to deal with them as capital offenders, and that the king was anxious to see ‘these evil persons’ receive at once ‘the recompenses of their pride and impiety.’ He advised care in a later letter (22 Jan.) in the choice of the judges, and urged that those should be selected who ‘make no doubt that the law is clear to burn them.’ Coke was thus, he advised, to be excluded from the tribunal, for he was known to disagree with the archbishop’s interpretation of the old statutes affecting heresy (Egerton Papers, Camd. Soc. pp. 446–8). And Abbot was finally triumphant. Early in 1614 Legate was burnt at Smithfield, and Wightman at Burton-upon-Trent. In another case of a political complexion he approved the use of torture. A Somersetshire clergyman, Edmund Peacham, was charged, in 1614, with libelling the king in a written sermon which had never been preached. Abbot was at the time receiving reports of catholic conspiracies, to which he always lent a willing ear. When, therefore, Peacham was brought before the privy council in his presence, and persisted in denying the alleged offence, Abbot readily assented to the proposal that he should be put to the ‘manacles.’ Bacon has been charged with taking a very active part in the persecution of Peacham, but Abbot must be credited with equal responsibility (Spedding, Life of Bacon, v. 91).

Abbot, however, did not confine his attention to propagating his views at home. He persuaded James I to use all his influence against Roman Catholicism and against heresies in every country of Europe. He sought information as to the state of religion abroad from the English ambassadors, and with Sir Dudley Carleton, the ambassador first at Venice and afterwards in Holland, he maintained a lengthy correspondence. In Holland he jealously watched the rise of Arminianism, and in 1612 he excited the king’s hostility against Conrad Vorstius, recently appointed to the professorship of theology at Leyden, whose views were said to savour of Arianism and Arminianism. James, in fact, applied to the states general for the dismissal of Vorstius, and the request was granted. Grotius came over to England in 1613, to endeavour to soothe James’s excited feelings against the Arminian party of the United Provinces, and to counteract Abbot’s influence, which was aggravating the religious differences in Holland almost as much as in England. But Abbot resented his interference. He called him a busybody, and warned the secretary of state, Sir Ralph Winwood, of his ambition and indiscretion. ‘You must take heed how you trust Dr. Grotius too far,’ he wrote (1 June, 1613), and he reported how the Dutch envoy’s conversation with the king was ‘tedious and full of tittle-tattle,’ and how he compared the ‘factious contradictors’ of his own opinions in his own country to ‘our puritans’ in England (Winwood, Memorials, iii. 459–60) — a comparison that was little likely to reconcile Abbot to his presence at court. But both at home and abroad Abbot looked forward to the conversion of his religious opponents, and he treated all foreigners who set foot in this country, and were willing to follow his religious guidance, with much generosity. In his lectures on Jonah at Oxford he had condemned in a forcible passage the inhospitable reception often accorded to foreigners by ‘the meaner people’