Page:Dictionary of National Biography volume 11.djvu/450

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Compton
Compton
444

the Anglican position with regard to baptism, the Lord's supper, and the catechising of young persons ; and in a ' Second Letter to the Clergy of the Diocese of London concerning (1) The Half Communion, (2) Prayers in an Unknown Tongue, (3) Prayers to the Saints' (London, 6 July 1680). Other letters followed, the last being dated April 1685. A collected edition appeared under the title of ' Episcopalia ' in 1686. By such means Compton thought to minimise the points of difference between himself and the protestant dissenters at the same time as he held Roman Catholicism in check. With a like aim he corresponded with many French protestants, and elicited some independent opinion in favour of the reunion of the dissenters with the establishment. M. le Moyne, professor at Leyden, M. de 1'Angle, preacher at Charenton, and M. Claude vindicated the Anglican church in letters to Compton, and these were published in the appendix to Stillingfleet's 'Unreasonableness of Separation' in 1681. In that year Compton set on foot subscription lists for the relief of persecuted French protestants. His conciliatory attitude to the protestant dissenters was, however, not very popular. The half-crazy rector of All Saints, Colchester, Edmund Hickeringill [q. v.], who, although a beneficed clergyman, was bitterly opposed to episcopacy, attacked Compton from the dissenting point of view so scurrilously that the bishop deemed it prudent to proceed against him for libel at the Colchester assizes (8 March 1681-2), and the defendant was ordered to pay 2,000l. ; but the fine was remitted (27 Jan. 1684) on his publicly confessing his offence in the court of the dean of arches. A friend of Hickeringill (Sol. Shawe) published a full account of the whole proceedings in 1682 under the title of 'Scandalum Magnatum, or the Great Trial at Chelmsford Assizes,' in which Compton was very harshly used. The quarrel was renewed in 1705, when Compton cited Hickeringill again before the ecclesiastical courts for writing a pamphlet called 'The Vileness of the Earth.' Luttrell reports that on 10 Jan. 1682-3 a cry was raised by some over-zealous Anglicans for the suspension of Compton on account of his friendliness to the dissenters. In July 1684 Compton consecrated the new church of St. James's, Piccadilly, London. He was at Charles II's deathbed, but the dying king made no remark when the bishop offered him consolation, which 'was imputed partly to the bishop's cold way of speaking, and partly to the ill opinion they had of him at court as too busy in opposition to popery' (Burnet). Nevertheless, at the close of the reign Compton was held 'in great credit and esteem' by the majority of the clergy and laity of the diocese (Hearne).

The accession of James II altered his position, and an attitude of open hostility to the government was soon forced upon him. In a debate in the House of Lords on the king's claim to dispense with the Test Act (18 Nov. 1685) he boldly declared that the civil and ecclesiastical constitution of the kingdom was in danger, and asserted that he spoke in the name of the whole bench of bishops. Parliament was prorogued next day ; Compton was dismissed from the privy council, and on 16 Dec. 1685 he ceased to be dean of the Chapel Royal. On 5 March in the following year James II sent letters to the Archbishops of Canterbury and York, prohibiting controversial sermons. A well-known clergyman in Compton's diocese, Dr. John Sharp, dean of Norwich and rector of St. Giles's-in-the-Fields (afterwards archbishop of York), replied in June to the new orders by a vigorous attack from the pulpit on Roman Catholicism. Compton was thereupon directed to 'suspend Dr. Sharp from further preaching in any parish church or chapel within his diocese until he had given the king satisfaction.' As far as he conscientiously could, Compton appears to have avoided a personal conflict with the crown. He humbly represented to the king (in a letter to the Earl of Sunderland) that Dr. Sharp had offended against no law of the land, and privately requested Sharp to abstain from preaching for the present ; but declined to inhibit him. This failed to satisfy James. Compton's contumacy was made the occasion of reviving the old high court of ecclesiastical commission, and on 11 Aug. the bishop was cited before the tribunal to answer a charge of disobeying the royal command. Lord-chancellor Jeffreys presided, and bluntly refused Compton's request for a copy of the directions given to the commissioners and of the accusations brought against him. 'I demand of you,' said Jeffreys, 'a direct and positive answer. Why did you not suspend Dr. Sharp ? . . . The question is a plain one. Why did you disobey the king ?' An application to consult counsel was allowed ; a week's adjournment was granted, and this was subsequently extended for another fortnight. On 31 Aug. Compton denied the court's competency, and declared that ' as a bishop he had a right to be tried before his metropolitan precedently to any other court whatsoever ; ' but this plea was peremptorily overruled and no discussion upon it permitted. The registrar of the court read out the bishop's statement of the action he took on receiving the king's order; his counsel, Dr. Oldys,Dr. Hodges, Dr. Price, and Dr. Newton, advanced some purely