Piers, John (DNB00)

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PIERS or PEIRSE, JOHN (d. 1594), successively bishop of Rochester and Salisbury and archbishop of York, was born of humble parentage at South Hinksey, near Oxford, and was educated at Magdalen College School. He became a demy of Magdalen College in 1542, and graduated B.A. in 1545, M.A. 1549, B.D. 1558, and D.D. 1565–6. He was elected probationer-fellow of Magdalen in 1545, and full fellow in 1546. In the following year he became a senior student of Christ Church, on the condition of returning to his old college if at the end of a twelve-month he desired to do so. This he did, and was re-elected fellow in 1548–9. He took holy orders, and in 1558 was instituted to the rectory of Quainton, Buckinghamshire. In this country cure, having only the companionship of rustics, according to Wood, he fell into the habit of tippling with them in alehouses, and ‘was in great hazard of losing all those excellent gifts that came after to be well esteemed and rewarded in him’ (Wood, Athenæ, ii. 835). He was weaned of the habit by the exhortation of a clerical friend, when preparing himself and his parishioners for the holy communion, and adopted such a strict rule of abstinence that even in his last sickness his physician was unable to persuade him to take a little wine. He was rector of Langdon in Essex 1567-1573.

On his return to Oxford he speedily recovered from his temporary eclipse, and obtained a leading place in the university, and his course of promotion was steady and rapid. In 1566 he was made prebendary of Chester. In 1570 he was elected to the mastership of Balliol, holding with it the college living of Fillingham in Lincolnshire. In 1567 he was appointed to the deanery of Chester, to which, in May 1571, he added that of Salisbury. At Salisbury he had, by command of the queen, brought the ritual and statutes of his cathedral into conformity with the spirit of the Reformation, having, October 1573, 'begun with his chapter the good work of abolishing superstitions and popish statutes,' abrogating all observances and customs there ordained ' repugnant to the Word of God and the statutes of the realm' (Report of Cathedral Commission, 1853, p. 377). In the same year (1571) he received from the crown the deanery of Christ Church, Oxford, with license to hold his other deaneries and livings in commendam. Chester he resigned in 1573, and Salisbury in 1578. In April 1575 he was ineffectually recommended by Archbishop Parker, together with Whitgift and Gabriel Goodman, for the see of Norwich (Parker, Correspondence, pp. 476-7). On the elevation of Edmund Freake [q. v.] to Norwich he was elected bishop of Rochester, and was consecrated 15 April 1576. He left Christ Church, according to Strype (Whitgift, i. 549), 'with a high character for prudence, kindness, and moderation, and as having been the great instrument of the progress of good learning in that house.' He held the bishopric of Rochester little more than a year, being translated to Salisbury on Gheast's death in November 1577. Elizabeth made him in 1576 lord high almoner. In this capacity he had a dispute with the Earl of Shrewsbury respecting deodands, which was settled amicably (Strype, Grindal, II. ii. 183). In January 1583 he was employed by Elizabeth to signify to Grindal that he should resign his archbishopric on account of failing health and increasing blindness. The archbishop's death in July of that year put an end to the negotiation (Grindal's Remains, Parker Soc. p. 297). In 1585 he was consulted by Elizabeth whether she could legitimately assist the Low Countries in their struggle with Philip of Spain, and gave a long affirmative reply (Strype, Whitgift, i. 437, App. No. xxv.) In 1585 he was one of the 'relentless prelates' before whom Edward Gellibrand, fellow of Magdalen, was cited as being the ringleader of the presbyterian party in Oxford. Two years later Leicester made an ineffectual attempt to obtain his translation to Durham (Strype, Annals, vol. iii. pt. i. pp. 682-4). On the defeat of the Spanish armada he was appointed by Elizabeth to preach at the thanksgiving service at St. Paul's on 24 Nov. 1588 (ib. pt. ii. p. 28; Churton, Life of Dean Nowell, p. 295). He reached the highest step in the ecclesiastical ladder by his translation to the archbishopric of York as Sandys's successor in 1589. His tenure of the primacy was short. He died at Bishopthorpe on 28 Sept. 1594, aged 71. He was unmarried. He was buried at the east end of York Minster, with a long laudatory epitaph. His funeral sermon was preached by his chaplain, John King (1559?-1621) [q. v.], afterwards bishop of London, 17 Nov. 1594.

At York, as in all his previous episcopates, Piers left behind him a high character as 'a primitive bishop,' one of the most grave and reverent prelates of the age, winning the love of all by his generosity, kindliness of disposition, and Christian meekness. His learning was deep and multifarious. He is called by Camden 'theologus magnus et modestus.' His liberality was shown in his waiving a claim to a profitable lease granted him by Elizabeth, on the request of Whitgift, to secure a provision for Samuel, the son of John Foxe the martyrologist (Strype, Whitgift, i. 485, Annals, vol. iii. pt. i. p. 742).

[Strype's Annals, II. ii. 183, in. i. 682-4, 742, ii. 28, iv. 432, Grindal, pp. 310, 391, Whitgift, i. 437, 485, 549, App. xxv., Aylmer, p. 119; Parker Society: Parker, 476, 7, Grindal, pp. 397, 430 n., 432 n., 433; Wood's Athenae, ii. 835, Fasti, i. 121, 129, 155, 169, Hist. and Antiq. of University, ii. 254; Foster's Alumni Oxon. 1500-1714, s.v. 'Peirse;' King's Funeral Sermon; Harington's Brief View, p. 182; Bloxam's Registers of Magd. Coll. iv. 93; Lansd. MS. 982, ff. 167, 176, 180.]

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