Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Pits, John

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PITS or PITSEUS, JOHN, D.D. (1560–1616), catholic divine and biographer, son of Henry Pits, by Elizabeth, his wife, sister of Dr. Nicholas Sanders [q. v.], was born at Alton, Hampshire, in 1560, and was admitted to Winchester College in 1571 (Kirby, Winchester Scholars, p. 144). He became a probationer-fellow of New College, Oxford, in 1578, and would have been admitted a perpetual fellow of that house in 1580 had he not, for conscience' sake, left the university and gone ‘beyond the seas as a voluntary exile.’ At Douay he was kindly received by Thomas Stapleton. Thence he went to Rheims, where the English College of Douay was then temporarily settled, arriving on 12 Aug. 1581 (Records of the English Catholics, i. 180). After staying a fortnight he proceeded to Rome, was admitted into the English College in that city on 18 Oct. 1581, and took the college oath on 15 April 1582. He studied philosophy and divinity at Rome for six years, and was ordained priest (Foley, Records, vi. 149). Returning to Rheims (8 April 1587), he taught rhetoric and Greek there for two years. In consequence of the civil troubles in France, he then withdrew to Lorraine, having been appointed tutor to a nobleman's son, and he took the degrees of master of arts and bachelor of divinity at Pont-à-Mousson. Subsequently he resided for a year and a half at Trèves, where he was made a licentiate of divinity. After visiting several of the principal cities of Germany, he settled for three years at Ingolstadt in Bavaria, and was created a doctor of divinity in that university. On his return to Lorraine he was appointed by Charles, cardinal of Lorraine, to a canonry in the cathedral church of Verdun. At the expiration of two years he was summoned from Verdun by Antonia, daughter of the Duke of Lorraine and wife of the Duke of Cleves, and appointed her confessor. Wood says that in order to ‘be the better serviceable to her, he learned the French tongue most accurately; so that it was usual with him afterwards to preach in that language.’ After continuing about twelve years in the service of the princess, he went, on her death, for the third time into Lorraine, and was promoted by his former pupil, Jean Porcelet, bishop of Toul, to the deanery of Liverdun, which, with a canonry and an officialship of the same church, yielded a large income. He died at Liverdun on 17 Oct. (O.S.) 1616, and was buried in the collegiate church, where a monument with a Latin inscription, copied by Wood, was erected to his memory.

His principal work is: 1. ‘Relationum Historicarum de Rebus Anglicis Tom. I. quatuor Partes complectens,’ Paris, 1619, 4to. No other volume was published. It is commonly referred to as ‘De illustribus Angliæ Scriptoribus,’ that being the running title of the second or principal part of the work, which was edited, with a preface, by William Bishop [q. v.], bishop of Chalcedon. The first part consists of certain prolegomena (a) De Laudibus Historiæ, (b) De Antiquitate Ecclesiæ Britanniæ, (c) De Academiis, tam antiquis Britonum, quam recentioribus Anglorum. The third part contains an ‘Appendix illustrium Scriptorum,’ and the fourth fifteen indices. Most of the lives of English writers are taken from ‘De Scriptoribus Majoris Britanniæ’ by John Bale [q. v.], bishop of Ossory, although Pits declares an abhorrence of Bale and his writings, omits Wiclif and all the Wiclifite writers whom Bale commemorates, and shows throughout a strong catholic bias. Almost the only original, and by far the most valuable, biographies in Pits's compilation are those of the catholic writers after the period of the Reformation, most of whom withdrew to the continent after the accession of Elizabeth. Among them, however, he includes, probably from lack of full information, ‘some that were sincere protestants, or at least more protestants than papists,’ such as Sir Anthony Cope, Thomas Caius, master of University College, John Caius, John Leland, Robert Record, and Timothy Bright.

Pits's other works are: 2. ‘De Legibus, Tractatus Theologicus,’ Trèves, 1592. 3. ‘De Beatitudine, Tractatus Theologicus,’ Ingolstadt, 1595. 4. ‘De Peregrinatione libri septem. Jam primum in lucem editi,’ Düsseldorf, 1604, 12mo; dedicated to the Princess Antonia, duchess of Cleves.

In Wood's time there were preserved among the archives of the church of Liverdun three manuscript treatises by Pits, respectively entitled ‘De Regibus Angliæ;’ ‘De Episcopis Angliæ,’ chiefly taken from Godwin's ‘Bishops of England’ (1601); and ‘De Viris Apostolicis Angliæ.’

[Addit. MS. 5878, f. 73; Biogr. Brit.; Dodd's Church Hist. ii. 374; Douay Diaries, p. 436; Foley's Records, iii. 646–8, vi. 149; Foster's Alumni Oxon. early ser. iii. 1170; Ghilini's Teatro d'Huomini Letterati, 1647, ii. 134; Kirby's Annals of Winchester College, p. 289; Notes and Queries, 2nd ser. iv. 386, 6th ser. vii. 226, viii. 464; Oxford Univ. Reg. vol. ii. pt. ii. p. 85; Pits, De Angliæ Scriptoribus, p. 817; Wood's Athenæ Oxon. ed. Bliss, ii. 172.]

T. C.