Project Canterbury

The Lives of the Seven Bishops
Committed to the Tower in 1688

Enriched and Illustrated with Personal Letters, Now First Published, from the Bodleian Library.

By Agnes Strickland

London: Bell and Daldy, 1866.

William Sancroft, Archbishop of Canterbury

Chapter I.

THE revolution which drove the male line of the Royal House of Stuart from the throne of Great Britain was precipitated by the courageous resistance of seven intrepid prelates to the unconstitutional exercise of the royal prerogative attempted by James II.--a fact no one who dispassionately studies the events of that period can doubt. These seven prelates were William Sancroft, Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Ken, Bishop of Bath and Wells, Francis Turner, Bishop of Ely, Thomas White, Bishop of Peterborough, John Lake, Bishop of Chichester, William Lloyd, Bishop of St. Asaph, and Sir Jonathan Trelawny, Bishop of Bristol. They were fondly styled the Seven Lamps of the Church, and invested by popular feeling with the attributes of patriots and martyrs. Their lives form a singularly instructive chain of historical biography, illustrating in a remarkable manner, not only the public events, but the domestic manners and customs of England from the reign of Charles I. to that of George I.

William Sancroft, with whose life we commence this series, was the second son of Francis Sancroft, Esq., of Fressingfield, and Margaret, daughter and coheiress of Thomas Boucher, of Wilby, in Suffolk. He was born on the 30th of January, 1617, at Ufford Hall, an ancient white mansion in the parish of Fressingfield, with quaint clustered chimneys and a long range of broad casement windows, shaded by two gigantic yew-trees which flank the gate that opens into, the court, and overtop the low-eaved roof of the edifice.

Ufford Hall, which is now degraded into a farmhouse, was then the property and residence of the Sancrofts, and was probably derived from a matrimonial alliance with some female descendant of the ancient Suffolk family whose name it bears. A stately chimneypiece of elaborately carved oak, moulded into three pillared arches, each arch overhanging a leopard's head, remains in the large dining-hall, emphatically termed, by the agricultural occupants of the mansion, "the ancient room." It has formerly been panelled with oak, ending in a curiously-carved cornice, of which some portions yet remain; also two doors on either side the chimney-piece of the same rich and curious work. The ceiling is supported and adorned with noble crossbeams of oak, with fluted sides.

In this antique mansion, which then was surrounded with primrose-studded meads, the childhood of William Sancroft was spent under the paternal care, in happy companionship with his brother and six sisters.

He received his education at the grammar-school at Bury, where he distinguished himself no less by his rapid advance in his studies, in which his progress far exceeded the expectations of his masters, than by his exemplary conduct and early piety. In his eighteenth year he was matriculated at Emmanuel College, Cambridge, of which his uncle, Dr. William Sancroft, was then master. Persevering in the steadfast career of virtue and diligence he had commenced at school, he acquired great proficiency in the various branches of classical learning, poetry, and history, but spent the greater portion of his time in the study of theology. He took the degree of bachelor of arts in 1637, being then in his twenty-first year, and continued to pursue his studies with unremitting fervour at the University. He subsequently experienced a severe affliction in the loss of a beloved friend and companion, whose death he mentions to his own father in a touching letter, dated Emmanuel College, May 27, 1641, in which he says--

"Dear Father,--The sad news which I shall tell you you know already; but give me leave to weep it over again into your bosom, and that will be some ease to mine. I have lost the companion of my studies, my friend by choice, my brother in affection, I shall sum up all if I tell you I have lost my dearest Arthur Bownest* * * *

"Besides those abilities, natural and exquisite, wherewith God had enriched him--besides that virtuous disposition and those many powerful attractions in his carriage, whereby he won the love and affection of all who had the happiness of knowing him--he possessed deep and unfeigned piety.

"I was at his burial, and helped to lay him in the bed of rest; and now there is nothing left for me to do but to love his memory and imitate his virtues, which God give me grace to do. He was mortified to all worldly things long before he died. Yet, father, I know he found not more difficulty to part with anything than with me, his unworthy friend, so dearly did he love me. I know he is now a glorious saint in heaven, and it is but self-love that makes me thus bewail his loss. Sleep on, blessed soul, upon the downy lap of eternity! Thy name shall always be to me as an ointment poured forth, and when I forget thee, let this be my punishment, to feel another as great a loss."

Sancroft received the degree of master of arts in the spring of 1641, and became a candidate for holy orders in the autumn of the same year. The spirit of profound humility and love in which the accomplished young scholar devoted his talents, his learning, and energies to the duties of his sacred vocation, are thus expressed in filial confidence to his father, in a letter dated September 10, 1641:--

"I have lately offered up to God the first-fruits of that calling which I intend, having common-placed twice in the chapel; and if, through your prayers and God's blessing on my endeavours, I may become an instrument in any measure fitted to bear His name before His people, it shall be my joy and the crown of my rejoicing in the Lord. I am persuaded that for this end I was sent into the world, and therefore if God lends me life and abilities, I shall be willing to spend myself and be spent upon the work."

William Sancroft in the same letter communicates an offer that had been made to him of the situation of a family tutor, on terms which, in these days, would have been considered with contempt by a butler; yet he recites them with complacency, in these words: "Within this fortnight our master proffered me a place; he would have had me to live in an earl's house, where I should have had 30l. per annum, and a gelding to ride abroad on upon occasion. My work should have been only to teach two of his children grammar, for there is a chaplain in the house already. I durst not accept the place because I knew not your mind, and that was my answer to our master. However, I am infinitely obliged to him, for I had the first offer of it in the college."

Probably he acted by the paternal advice in not accepting a situation offering so poor a compensation for a young man combining such distinguished talents and brilliant acquirements with high moral rectitude of thought and action. In another letter to his father, William Sancroft speaks of having been recommended by his friend Mr. Weller to undertake the care of a rich London merchant's son, whom his father proposed sending beyond sea. "I like the person," observes our future primate, who certainly was no tuft-hunter, "better than if he had been what Mr. Weller mistook him for, noble. For then he would have looked for more respect and attendance, nor should I have had so much influence upon him for his good. Briefly, I should then have been a servant and not a master, or at least a companion; there would have been much expected and perhaps but little done, for generally these great ones prove unruly abroad."

Who does not admire the sound sense and independent spirit which dictated observations like these? The situation, however, was not accepted. William Sancroft had another vocation to fulfil.

The following year he endeavoured to obtain a fellowship in Emmanuel College. His kind uncle, Dr. Sancroft, was dead, but the mastership of that College was in the hands of the learned and loyal Dr. Holdsworth, whom our young divine regarded with scarcely less love and reverence, and with whom he was on the most affectionate and confidential terms. There was a circumstance which, to the tender conscience of William Sancroft, opposed an obstacle to his enjoyment of the desired fellowship, which is thus explained by his own pen in his letter to his father of the 4th of April, 1642:--

"When I was in the country you know there was an overture of assigning some lands to yourself and me. Now if it should please God to dispose of me in a fellowship in the college (which is yet doubtful), you know the statute, that none can be a fellow who hath 20l. per annum. Now my quaere is, whether this assignment (though but in trust), especially if the trust be not mentioned in the instrument, will not invest me with such an estate as will disable me from taking this preferment in the college. That nobody knows of it I weigh not, for I desire more a thousand times to approve myself to God and my own conscience, than to all the world beside. If it be not done, I pray, sir, think upon it before you do I it; if it be done, and you find it will touch upon the statute, let it be undone. I would not be too scrupulous nor too bold with my conscience. If it be a needless scruple, I had rather show myself to have no law than no conscience."

The divine maxim, "He that is faithful in the least will be faithful in the greatest," was fully exemplified from first to last in the character and career of William Sancroft.

He obtained his fellowship in the year 1643, but he had fallen on evil times; his loyalty to his king and attachment to the liturgy of the Church of England effectually barred him from preferment.

The Scotch Covenant was tyrannically imposed upon both universities this year at the point of the sword, and many of the fellows were most illegally ejected for refusing to fetter their consciences with this unconstitutional obligation. The parliamentary leader, the Earl of Manchester, visited Cambridge, and rudely deposed the master of Emmanuel College, Dr. Holdsworth, who was also the vice-chancellor, from all his offices, and cast him into prison. Sancroft, though known to be the particular friend of the master of Emmanuel, was overlooked in this first attack on the liberties of the university; yet he made no secret of his courageous determination to resist the oppressive edicts of the so-called champions of liberty.

"We live," writes he to his deposed and incarcerated master, Dr. Holdsworth, "in an age in which to speak freely is dangerous; faces are scanned, and looks are construed, and gestures are put on the rack, and made to confess something which may undo the actor; and though the title be liberty, written in foot and half-foot letters upon the front, yet within there is nothing but perfect slavery, worse than Russian."

After bemoaning the desolation of Emmanuel College, deprived of its head and many of its fellows, he glances at the peril of expulsion with which himself and those yet remaining were threatened, unless they submitted to the power that had invaded their academic shades.

"And what then?" he intrepidly asks. "Shall I lift up my hand? I will cut it off first. Shall I subscribe my name? I will forget it as soon. I can at least look up through this mist, and see the hand of my God holding the scourge that lashes; and with this thought I am able to silence all the mutinies of boisterous passions, and to charm them into a perfect calm."

So much respected and beloved was he, and so free from personal enemies, that he remained unmolested in his fellowship for several years, and took the degree of bachelor of divinity in 1648.

Sancroft bewailed the murder of the king with impassioned eloquence in a letter to his father, who fully participated in the feelings of grief, indignation, and horror with which he regarded that crime. The tender ties of affection and sympathy, which united the father and son in the most perfect and holy of friendships, were severed by the death of the elder Sancroft, in February, 1649.

"What I feared is come to pass," writes Sancroft to Mr. Holdsworth. "It hath pleased God to take I away from us my dear father, the sole prop of this now ruined family. His tender sense and apprehension of the public, calamities, together with the burthen of sixty-eight years and a violent fever with I which it pleased God to visit him, have ended the life in which all ours were bound up. On Sunday I night, about ten of the clock, he went hence. Yesternight, at eight, I made hard shift to get; hither, where I found a sad family, and mingled up I my tears with theirs. Good friend, let me have thy prayers to assist me in this saddest loss that ever I sustained in this world. I shall haste out of this sad place as soon as the duty I owe to the comfort of the widow and orphans, and some care I must share in gathering up the broken pieces of this shattered family, shall be over; haply both may yet exact a fortnight. In the meantime, I prithee, redouble thy care for my pupils, especially for the sick."

Sancroft now held the post of tutor at Emmanuel College, and the friend to whom he writes was at this season acting as his deputy.

On Sancroft's return to Cambridge, a fresh trial awaited him. The dominant faction usurping the name of Parliament, supported by the army, had framed an oath called the Engagement, more stringent and even less excusable than the Covenant, for the purpose of supporting them in their illegal and despotic authority. By this oath all persons were required to swear to maintain the Government as it was then established, without king or House of Lords, and those who refused were declared incapable of holding any office in Church or State. This oath was pressed upon both universities. Sancroft steadily refused to take it, though assured that the loss of his fellowship and all his academical employments would be the result.

So greatly, however, was he respected and beloved in the college, that the penalty was not enforced for a while.

"Some would persuade me," writes he to his brother, Thomas Sancroft, "that I have some secret friend who doth me good offices, though I know it not. However, brother, it is a comfort to me that I am sure of a friend in you, and if the worst happen, which I still expect, that I have a retreat with you, which still you so lovingly proffer. I thank you for your readiness to entertain my pupil with myself, but I shall not make use of your kindness in that particular if I may avoid it, for if I go hence I desire privacy above all."

His ejection from his fellowship, though long delayed, finally took place.

In July, 1651, he was driven from Cambridge, after having been an honoured resident there for seventeen years. He resided for a time at Triplow, in Cambridgeshire; then retired to his native village in Suffolk, and took up his abode with his brother Thomas. He alludes to the perfect solitude of this place in one of his letters to his friend Mr., afterwards Sir Henry North, in these words:--

"From hence you cannot expect I should tell you anything, but that I have here thick shades and cool walks, but no company in them, except that of my own thoughts."

He spent five or six years at Fressingfield, and occupied his leisure in writing a satirical work entitled, "Modern Policies, taken from Machiavel, Borgia, and other choice authors," for the purpose of holding up to deserved contempt the political villanies of the successful party. He also successfully controverted the Antinomian doctrines then so prevalent, in a treatise entitled "Fur Praedestinatus" which excited great attention. His most important avocation was assisting in a collation of the Vulgate translation of the New Testament with those of Beza and other modern theologists of the Geneva school. He was now deprived of the income derived from his fellowship, and cut off from increasing his pecuniary resources by the college tutorship, no one who refused to take the oath of Engagement being allowed to reside at either of the universities. He had inherited a small estate at Fressingfield at his father's death, and on this his economical habits enabled him to live, and to extend his beneficence to many of his distressed friends, who, like himself, had been ejected from their fellowships and collegiate homes for conscience' sake; and were destitute of private means of maintenance.

During his residence in Suffolk he was seriously uneasy at the unwise engagement into which one of his sisters had entered after her first husband's death, to the great vexation of her family, having set her mind on marrying a covetous, ill-tempered, worthless fellow. One evening, when William Sancroft had visited her, she slily slipped an orange stuck full of cloves into his pocket, intending it as a little surprise, and for him afterwards to roast and sift sugar over it, in order to make a drink familiarly called a bishop, by putting it into a jug of claret when it should be sufficiently roasted. Her philosophical brother, pretending not to understand the pleasant joke, took the opportunity of addressing a metaphorical letter to her on the circumstance, deprecating the unsuitable alliance of a sour bad orange with excellent cloves. No one who did not understand the preparation of an orange that was intended to make a bishop, would be able to enter into the gist of the following quaint fraternal letter which is thus indorsed by Sancroft:--

"To my sister Frances, when I feared she would marry T. Brock, [Tanner, lii. 77.]


"Though, when I saw you last but once at your house, you were in the humour of giving much and receiving nothing again for it; yet, because I suppose it was your particular disposition in favour of one person only, I shall count myself obliged to return some acknowledgments at least for the present I found the other night in my pockets, from your kind hand, as I verily believe. And truly I can heartily thank you for the cloves, so good they are, and sweet, so pure and bright: but, to deal freely with you, the orange is, in my opinion, quite nought. How fair soever it may seem to you, who can see no farther than the outside, 'tis to be suspected near at the heart. You may, perhaps, persuade yourself 'tis a sweet orange; but I fear, whoever tries it 'twill prove a very crab. 'Tis indeed of the largest size, and bigger than most oranges; yet I should rather choose a less, so it were a Civill (Seville orange). And, which is worst of all, 'tis so miserably dry (at least, as far as the spices can read) that it will suck up all the juice of the cloves, which will not get a drop of moisture back again. So that, although I dare not disjoin what your hand alone hath joined, yet, since I hope you have not made them for sure, but they may be severed, I could wish you would' part them, and let the cloves keep their sweetness to themselves; and then how fragrant and precious will they be to all that come within the scent of you! But if it must be otherwise, I shall sadly stand by at a distance, and see the event, which I fear will be this: the cloves being exhausted, and robbed of their sweet juice and fragrancy, will wither away, and fall out of their places. While the orange, being thus enriched, and further secured by his thick and tough rind, will gape for another, and perhaps after that another set of cloves, which will be all served in the same manner. And what pity 'tis so sweet a spice and so sour a fruit met, let all that are impartial judge.

"I have done; and if you either understand not, or believe not what I have written, I could heartily wish you did both as fitly as I do; which, God knows, I wish not for any interest of mine own (for what can it be?), but merely and only for your good; and because I cannot, to the best of my apprehension, any other way more approve myself,

"Your faithful friend, and truly loving brother,

"W. S.

"Fres. April 9,--55."

Sancroft was residing with a family in Lincoln, some time in the year 1655. He writes from thence, in reply to a long letter from his eldest brother, who had been detailing family news, on which his comments are very amusing, especially in regard to the valetudinarianism of their sister Grenling, a young widow in comfortable circumstances, but who made every one very uncomfortable with her needless domestic labours and complaints of bodily sufferings and delicacy of health. "For my sister Grenling, if tenderness grows upon her, which is not strange in go thin a body, she must meet it with proportionable care of herself. As far as I may have leave to put in my conjecture at such a distance, I should attribute her rheums and colds either to her Sunday journeys, when she goes hot into church and sits herself cold there with wet feet, or to her every day dairy dablings so early in the morning. A good double gelding (meaning a strong horse that would carry double) would remedy the first, the keeping another servant the second; and why she should deny herself either of them, and more ease in all regards than hitherto she hath allowed herself, especially having wherewithal to maintain all this, and more, God be thanked! and none that depends on her to he provided for, I cannot divine. Charge her, therefore, that she be not nice to take her portion of what God hath given her, and that she make much of herself, if not for her own sake yet for so many of her friends that love her; that she cherish her tender body with warmth this winter season; and since she hath not domestic company, that she bid her friends welcome that come to see her out of compassion or affection; and assure her from me, than ease, warmth, good diet, and cheery company, there can be no better remedy till a husband come.

"I am glad you had so merry an hour at the warming the shop. I wish heartily your choir had been fuller, not only by those who should have come and would not, but by one who would gladly have been there if he might. Present my loving respects, I pray, to all who were pleased to remember me there, and particularly to the housekeepers. Tell my brother Drowett that my suit fits well; only desire him to pay the tailor, which I see by the bill he hath not done; for it being uncertain when I shall come into the country I am loth the poor man should stay so long for his money." Sancroft does not forget a kind mention of his father's widow, for he says, "I am glad my mother was at your meeting at Stradbroke; I pray present her my humble duty, and tell her I wish her all contentment and happiness in her new abode."

He then adverts to the melancholy subject of public affairs, and gives a shrewd but cautious hint of the grinding military tyranny under which the once free and happy realm of England was at that time suffering, and dared not complain; since the boasted constitutional laws were overthrown, trials by jury at an end, and all ranks of people were coerced by local courts-martial under the domination of Cromwell's major-generals, who inflicted fines, forfeitures, imprisonment, and even death at pleasure. Modern historians scarcely deign to mention these facts, and instead of describing the domestic miseries of civilized society, the loss of commerce and decay of trade, the absence of manufactures, the want of useful and ornamental employment, and the utter collapse of literature and art under the Protectorate, they extol the merits and virtues of Cromwell and his Ironsides. It is only in the local histories, the diaries, and private letters of that dark period, we see what their doings actually were, and marvel at the ignorance of their eulogists!

In November, 1657, William Sancroft left England, having made up his mind to travel. On his arrival in Holland, his first resting-place, the fame of his learning and eloquence having preceded him, he was honoured with an invitation to preach a sermon before the eldest daughter of his late royal master, Princess Mary of Orange, mother of William III. There was some idea of appointing him to be one of her chaplains, but it was not carried into effect.

While he was residing at Utrecht, in the spring of 1659, he wrote the following beautiful letter to his brother, on the death of their stepmother, his father's second wife:--

"May 30, 1659.


"Yours of May 3 I received the 18th of the same; and in it, as I ought, lamented the news of my mother-in-law's death. 'Tis an object I will fix and charge upon my memory, and often represent to my thoughts my dear father lying buried between his two wives; and though I am now ready to wander farther from you, yet will I hope one day to return and find my last home at his feet, which is my desire.

"Upon the news you send me, it cannot be unseasonable to reflect a little upon our mortality, especially there being now none left upon earth who gave to us those superior relations of father and mother, scarce of uncle or aunt; so that we stand in the front of the battle, and in order of nature must look to be the next spoils of death's all-conquering dart. Let us not then flatter ourselves, brother; for in earnest we grow old; and 'tis strange that of so many as we are, none have yet laid their heads in the dust; which we shall do with greater confidence and comfort if betimes we provide and prepare for it; nay, and with joy too, if we consider how wretched a world we bid farewell to. God Almighty send the next generation a more comfortable pass through it than we are like to see."

At this time his narrow finances were improved by the posthumous payment of a debt of 200l. due to him from a Mr. John Gayer, who also bequeathed an annuity of sixty pounds a year to him for life.

He was thus enabled to indulge his munificent spirit by relieving many of the destitute English exiled divines, and among others the learned Dr. Cosin, who, when preferred, after the Restoration, to the bishopric of Durham, failed not to testify his grateful remembrance of the aid he had received in his time of need from the generous William Sancroft.

In company with his friend, Mr. Robert Gayer, who bore all the expenses of their tour, Sancroft travelled through Italy, rested at Geneva on the way, visited Venice, and made a considerable stay at Padua, where he entered his name as a student at the university.

While at Rome, in May, 1660, he received the joyful tidings of the Restoration, and returned to England early in the autumn of the same year. Sancroft was selected to preach the sermon in Westminster Abbey, November 18, 1660, on the consecration of his friend, Dr. Cosin, to the bishopric of Durham, and of six other bishops. This was his first public appearance, and his preaching was greatly admired. He was then in his forty-fourth year, in the full vigour of intellect, improved and chastened by the sweet uses of adversity, and was modest and retiring in his manners.

He was immediately chosen by his grateful friend, Cosin, Bishop of Durham, for his domestic chaplain; and the next year appointed as one of the royal chaplains by Charles II., having materially assisted in the revision of the Liturgy which was then made.

He was one of the three supervisors of the press when the New Book of Common Prayer, containing the alterations and the Services for the Restoration and the Martyrdom of King Charles I., was printed. Burnet affirms that Sancroft was the author of these services, but of this there is no proof. A very interesting letter from William Sancroft to his elder brother is preserved in the Bodleian Library, which shows the lively interest he took in family matters at home.

"London, March 10, 1661. [Tanner, xlix. 148.]


"'Tis long since I wrote to you, and long since I thought to have come immediately to you. But you will excuse me for both when you shall know how powerfully I have been hindered. On Saturday I sent to take a passage in the Cambridge coach, and meant to have come thence immediately to you, God permitting; but before I slept, I found myself stopped by those who have right to command me. I know not well when this new business will be at an end, nor can foresee whether I shall be licenced to attend my lord into the North, when he goes, which will be presently after Easter. And yet I confess I have invitation enough to go thither; he having now made me a prebend of Duresme, and given me one of the best Livings in that country, which lies very conveniently for me, within 4 miles of Duresme, in the pleasantest and healthfullest place of the bishopric. The revenue is competent and fair, and there is nothing to be wished amended in all, but that it stands so far from the sun and my dearest relations.

I shall hope to tempt some or other to go along with me, at least when I shall be settled there; without which I shall lose much of the contentment I should otherwise promise myself there. If nobody will be so kind to me, at least I shall be so kind to myself, and you all, as some time every winter to see you, my oath obliging me to attend the king my master one month every year, which at present is January, and not like to be altered. God send you, and my sister, and us all, joy of your young daughter, Katherine, in naming of whom did you look forward to the coming Queen? or back to our great-grandmother? or to her Godmother present? or all? However it were, God bless her, and all yours, and all our dear friends about you, whom I pray salute particularly in my name. If it be possible, I will see you before I go northward, though I do but see you. I have forgotten at what time that 100l. due from my brother Jacob is payable by his bond; but would gladly have it payed in as soon as it shall be due (or sooner, if that day be long hence), and returned hither, for I have great occasion for money, and had rather make use of mine own than borrow. If this letter finds you at Harleston, and he be there, send me word next post what I am to expect from him. With my loving and heartiest remembrance to yourself, and all friends, I commend you all to God's grace, and remain


"Your very affectionate brother,

"W. S

"To my very loving brother,
Mr. Thomas Sancroft,
of Fressingfield, in Suffolk

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