William Sancroft, Archbishop of Canterbury Chapter II.
A NEW era in Sancroft's life now commenced. Honours and preferments were showered in quick succession on the impoverished recluse of Fressingfield. The degree of D.D. was conferred upon him at Cambridge by the royal recommendation, preparatory to his taking possession of the rich rectory of Houghton-le-Spring, and his installation as a canon of the cathedral of Durham, to which he had been collated by the bishop. His venerable patron, in one of the very friendly letters which he wrote to him on this occasion, adroitly recommended a wife to him in these words:--
"I pray tell the gentlewoman, whom you name in the end of your letter, that I take her message and acknowledgment sent to me very kindly from her, of whom. I have a very good opinion; and, if you have so too, I think you cannot choose a better companion and housekeeper, both at Houghton and Durham, than so virtuous a person as she is like to make."
Sancroft's reply to this letter has not been discovered; but he appears to have stated obstacles which he considered insuperable against contracting a marriage with the lady recommended by the bishop, for whom, however, he expresses both affection and respect; also that he had promised to give a home to his sister, who was to live with him; for the bishop writes, on the 3rd of September, 1661: "That virtuous person, whom we have now twice mentioned, I think will make a good companion for you and your sister both. The great care and affection you have for her, and the just regard that she hath again for you, may, in good time, prevail with you to alter your resolution which you formerly had to live single; but do as you think fit to do, and as God shall incline your mind. In the meanwhile, I take not the difficulties which you mention to be invincible, either on her part, or much considerable on the part of them on whom you say she depends; and truly there cannot be a greater act of charity done for her, than to take her out of the danger wherein she lives, and prevent her falling into the fire." This alludes to something in the private history of the lady, of which the biographer of Sancroft can give no explanation, as the bishop leaves it a mystery. Sancroft, however, decided on continuing a single life. His sister Catharine lived with him. Both their portraits are preserved at Gawdy Hall, the seat of his collateral representative, Mr. Holmes. He was chosen Master of Emmanuel College, by the fellows, on the 14th of August, 1662, although the puritanical party were very considerably in the majority there; but the liberality of his sentiments, conscientious principles, and great learning and piety commanded such universal respect that his election to the mastership was unanimous, unsought for, and wholly unexpected by him. He found the college in a state of great disorganization, and projected considerable reforms; but, being called to more important labours in the Church, he resigned the mastership of Emmanuel at the end of three years. He prepared, however, a design for a new chapel, and eventually contributed nearly six hundred pounds to its erection, as the registers of the college testify.
In the beginning of the year 1664 he was nominated by the king to the deanery of York, and, having been elected by the chapter, he was installed on the 26th of February. He was at great expense in repairing the ruinous deanery, and rebuilding some portions where repairs were impracticable, and after all only held the preferment ten months, being called, by the king's appointment, to the deanery of St. Paul's, through the earnest recommendation of Sheldon, Archbishop of Canterbury, and Humphrey Henchman, Bishop of London. He was also appointed to the prebendship of Oxgate in the same cathedral. These splendid preferments were gratefully received by Sancroft, but with anything but pleasure. He had won the affections of the people of York, and contemplated ending his days amongst them, and, having had the trouble and expense of repairing and fitting up the deanery, it was painful to him to leave it and encounter the like fatigue and greater outlay for a new home. "Only," writes he to his brother, one comfort is that now I shall sit down, and may justly be confident that my next ^remove will be to the grave."
Sancroft had to stem a troubled sea ere he gained that tranquil port where "the wicked cease from troubling, and the weary are at rest." Never, however, had any man, on whom prosperity and honours were suddenly and unexpectedly showered, fewer enemies than the mild apostolic dean, or friends more loving.
It was about this time that the following touching letter was addressed to Sancroft by the widow of his friend Wright:--
" Thurcaston, Leicestershire, June 8, 1668.
"The great and due respect and honour which my dear husband ever had for your worthy self, invites me at this time to communicate the notice of his death to you, who I know will condole with me the loss of so excellent and worthy a person; for this sad stroke of Divine Providence (without, vanity or flattery I hope I may now safely affirm) hath reached further than myself, even to all his friends and acquaintance, and to the Church of God also, the prosperity of which was at all times his prayers and his joy. I hope, sir, it will not be unpleasing to you, as it will be always comfortable to me, to mention the manner of his death, which was thus: on May-day last he fell ill, and departed the 22nd of that month, all which time he continued without any, or with very little pain or sickness, which he esteemed a great evidence of the Divine favour, in regard he had much desired and prayed for an easy passage, whereby he enjoyed his memory and understanding perfect to the last instant, and thereby, in a most heavenly and comfortable way, he was enabled to bequeath his blessing to his children, his entire love to his friends and relations, and his soul into the hands of Almighty God who gave it; and so I cannot say that he is perished, but rather, like the dawn into the day, his mortality was swallowed up of glory, leaving a dear and precious memory to me, his disconsolate widow, and three tender children, viz., two sons and one daughter. And now, sir, I shall presume further to tell you that we find this bitter cup much sweetened to us, in the assurance of all friendly favour and countenance, as occasion and opportunity shall be, from all those in whom he had secured any interest of friendship, and in particular from your worthy self. His youngest son, that bears his name, he always designed for the ministry; but being now young, not six years old, he must wait for your future assistance in that way, and in the mean time, till he shall be capable, treasure up the assurance of your favour as a most precious jewel. For his library, my intent, in correspondence to his directions, is to sell it as soon as conveniently I can; in order to which I have sent a catalogue of the books to Mr. Allestry, a bookseller in London, whom I have desired to communicate the catalogue to you, beseeching your advice in the disposing of them, as I shall ever dispose myself to be,
"Your true honoured, and humble servant,
"To the much honoured and
"DOROTHY WRIGHT. Reverend Dr. Sancroft."
The first great object that engaged Sancroft's attention in his new position was the very important one of repairing and restoring the ancient metropolitan church, old St. Paul's Cathedral. That primitive Christian temple, where the gospel was first preached to the people of London, had been wantonly desecrated during the Commonwealth, and appropriated to the base purpose of a barrack and horse quarters for the roundhead soldiers; the parliament of 1643, having seized the money and materials which the then dean and chapter had provided for the repairs of this time-honoured structure, and removed the scaffoldings that were erected for that purpose. Thus, in consequence of neglect and misusage, the whole of the building had become dilapidated, and portions of the roof had fallen in.
Sancroft's plans for the restoration of this cathedral were interrupted by the terrible visitation of the plague, which ravaged London in the summer of 1665. In the following year the great fire, completing the work of destruction commenced by the roundhead spoilers, left old St. Paul's a scorched and blackened shell.
Very energetic, nevertheless, were the efforts which the dean and chapter made for the preservation of at least a portion of this relic of antiquity, and for nearly two years they carried on their work of reparation at great expense; the architect selected and employed by Sancroft for this purpose being no other than his friend Sir Christopher Wren, then Dr. Wren, professor of astronomy at Oxford.
In his ardent desire to save the old cathedral, Sancroft had disregarded the opinion of Wren, that the attempt would only end in disappointment, and he writes, April 25, 1668, the following particulars of the fulfilment of Wren's prediction:--
"What you whispered in my ear at your last coming hither is now come to pass. Our work at the west end of St. Paul's is fallen about our ears. Your quick eye discerned the walls and pillars gone off from their perpendiculars, and I believe other defects, too, which are now exposed to every common observer." He ends by entreating Wren to come and bring his excellent designs.
Finally, it was agreed to abandon the hopeless attempt of repairing the ancient ruinous structure, and to erect a new cathedral suited to the wealth and increased importance of the metropolis of the British empire. Sancroft contributed from his private means the sum of fourteen hundred pounds, probably his all of ready money, to the subscription that was opened for commencing the work, besides devoting a liberal annual sum from the emoluments of the dean and chapter of St. Paul's, which, through his frugal, judicious, and conscientious management, were daily increasing. It was an arduous and an anxious time for him, as London was almost bereft of churches.
Paul's Cross, Charing Cross, and the ancient cross in Chepe, those useful stations around which the wayfaring, houseless poor, the ragged, barefoot children of misery, undeterred from the privilege of public worship by the imposition of pews and the insolence of pew-openers, had been wont to congregate, under the canopy of heaven, to hear the gospel preached in the good old times, had been demolished by the destructives of the commonwealth; and Sancroft perceived the urgent necessity of hastening the erection of St. Paul's Cathedral, if only to supply the people with a spacious place of worship in some measure adapted to their wants and their spiritual destitution.
The first stone of the stately fane, which now excites the admiration not only of England but the whole world, was laid in 1675, under the superintendence and care of Sancroft. Neither delays nor the base system of jobbing, which in the present century pollute national works and national charities, were permitted by him to interfere with the erection of the metropolitan cathedral of the reformed Church of England. The work was performed conscientiously, quickly, and well. The glorious structure of modern St. Paul's rose from the ashes of its lamented predecessor with such wonderful celerity, that in ten years the whole plan of the edifice was developed, the walls of the choir and aisles were finished, together with the north and south porticoes, and the great pillars of the dome carried to the same height.
Sancroft also rebuilt the deanery of St. Paul's at the same time, and bestowed his attention in supplying the spiritual destitution of the populous hamlet of Shadwell, which had then no endowment for a minister of its own, and formed a part of the populous parish of Stepney, where it was impossible for one church to accommodate the inhabitants. In consequence of his unwearied exertions, an Act of Parliament was procured in the year 1670, constituting Shadwell a separate parish. Sancroft gave up a portion of his estate as Dean of St. Paul's for the churchyard and parsonage.
His zeal for the augmentation of the poorer livings, which occasionally fall to the lot of the most deserving of the English clergy, induced him at this time to add to the miserable endowment of the vicarage of Sandon, in Hertfordshire, of which he was now the patron. Seven poor livings were in like manner enriched by this disinterested ecclesiastic. He also endeavoured to use his personal influence with many of the rich clergy by writing persuasive letters, entreating them to assist their poorer brethren from their abundance. One glorious light of our English Church, Dr. Isaac Barrow, followed the example of his friend. Our Church has reason to remember Sancroft with gratitude, for his self-denial and charitable' exertions led the way to the institution of "Queen Anne's Bounty." Burnet daringly claimed the credit of inducing Queen Anne to her Act of Bounty, but Sancroft's well-known facts speak for themselves, as to who suggested it by the irresistible argument of example.
The Archdeaconry of Canterbury had been conferred on Dr. Sancroft by the king in 1668, but he held it only two years, finding it interfered with his arduous duties, as Dean of St. Paul's. He was also Prolocutor of the Lower House of Convocation.
On the death of Sheldon, Archbishop of Canterbury, which occurred somewhat unexpectedly, November 9, 1677, the king--who had, during the building of St. Paul's Cathedral, peculiar opportunities of becoming acquainted with the conscientious and unworldly character of the apostolic dean, his zeal for the service of the Church, great learning, modesty, and mild temper, and prudent management of ecclesiastical property--pitched on him as the most proper man in the realm to be invested with the primacy of England. In this opinion the Lord Chancellor and other members of the Council fully coincided. His Majesty, intending to communicate his intention to Sancroft in a private interview, directed Chiffinch to let the Dean of St. Paul's know that he required his attendance immediately at Whitehall. The dean, who was no courtier, and, as usual, busily occupied in distributing his alms and spiritual comfort to the needy poor in the east of London, could not at first be found, at any rate in the purlieus of the palace, at a time when the vacant see of Canterbury rendered Whitehall the centre of attraction to all the more worldly-minded clergy.
Sancroft happened to be at the Bishop of London's house when Chiffinch traced him out, and told him "that his Majesty must speak to him that afternoon, at the office at the foot of Whitehall Stairs." So little did Sancroft anticipate the brilliant preferment awaiting him, that he was a little alarmed at the royal message, imagining perhaps that some of his charities had been misrepresented at Court, and he had been considered guilty of comforting and relieving the king's enemies, for he exclaimed, "His Majesty wants to speak to me! what have I done?"
At five o'clock that day, December 30th, he attended, in obedience to the King's command, at Mr. Chiffinch's parlour, and received, to his great surprise, the announcement that it was his Majesty's pleasure to appoint him to the primacy. He replied, with characteristic humility, that he was most unfit for so important an office; pleaded his solitary habits, his poverty, and ignorance of courtly life, and concluded by entreating his Majesty to bestow this great appointment on one who knew better how to comport himself regarding it. King Charles listened to all these genuine expressions of noli episcopari, and then replied pleasantly, "You must take it, as you are quite homeless, for I have given away your deanery of St. Paul's over your head to Dr. Stillingfleet."
Sancroft then fell back on his poverty with this most naive declaration:--
"I was a rich man once," observed he to his king, "for I had fifty pounds beforehand in the world. I put it in the hands of a merchant of the city of London, to be ready when wanting. He broke, and lo! I lost it all. From that time I resolved never to be worth one penny again. I have not a farthing at present; therefore I must be relieved from the burden of this high preferment. I have not wherewithal to pay the crown its fees and first-fruits."
These the king graciously promised to excuse, and further assisted him in some of the expensive items requisite to his new dignity, by presenting him with a state barge and a coach, both veterans, to be sure, in the service of royalty, but possessing the capabilities of being rendered, by new painting and emblazoning, fit for the use of this primitive archbishop, who protested his inability to provide the outward things necessary for the unwelcome dignity that was thrust upon him. This reluctance was finally overcome, and his consecration as Archbishop of Canterbury took place in "Westminster Abbey, January 27, 1678.
Dryden, in his political poem, "Absalom and Achitophel," introduces the character of Sancroft under the name of Zadoc the priest, and commemorates his meek, unworldly spirit, and the king's reasons for elevating him to the primacy, in these lines:--
"Zadoc the priest, when shunning power and place,
His lowly mind advanced to David's grace."
Great disappointment among the ambitious churchmen of that day was the result of Sancroft's appointment. The soldier-prelate, Compton, did not conceal his anger. O'Brien, Earl of Thomond, recently converted from Romanism, thought proper to fling a dart of his Irish wit at Compton, when conversing on the new primate in company with the Bishop of Durham. "My lords," said he, as they came from the Chapel Royal at Whitehall, "you have all been played a Newmarket trick; but you see, God Almighty's rule doth sometimes hold. He has exalted the humble and meek, and kept down the mighty from the seat."
It has been invidiously asserted by Bishop Burnet and his copyists that Sancroft owed his elevation to the primacy to the influence of the Duke of York, who considered him a fit person to further his designs in favour of Romanism--an assertion wholly inconsistent with the zealous and unwelcome attempt made by Sancroft, soon after his consecration, to induce the duke to return to the communion of the Church of England. Sancroft requested the venerable Dr. Morley, Bishop of Winchester, who was much beloved and respected by the king and the Duke of York, having attended Charles I. during all his troubles, and after his murder followed the royal family into exile, and faithfully continued his unpaid ministration to them and their servants at Paris and Breda, to accompany him to the conference which his Royal Highness consented to hold with them on this all-important subject. Sancroft was the speaker, and addressed the duke in a very eloquent and persuasive speech, from which the following is a brief extract:--"What we are now about to say to your Highness is that which Heaven and earth have long expected from us that we should say, and what we cannot answer it to God or man if we omit or neglect, when we have an opportunity, which your Royal Highness is pleased at this time to afford us. And, therefore, hearken unto us, we beseech you, that God may hearken unto you; and let it be no grief nor offence unto you, if, with that freedom which becomes good Christians, loyal subjects, and true Englishmen, we lay before you at this time some of the many grievances and just complaints of our common mother, the holy, but most afflicted Church of England."
After a just eulogium on that Church, as the purest and best on earth, he makes this touching appeal to the duke's feelings for having forsaken her:--
"You were born within her then happy pale and communion, and were baptized into her holy faith. You sucked .the first principles of Christianity from her, the principles of the oracles of God, that sincere milk of the Word, not adulterated with heterogeneous or foreign mixtures of any kind. Your royal father, that blessed martyr of ever glorious memory, who loved her, and knew how to value her, and lost his all in this world for love of her, even his life, too, bequeathed you to her at the last.
"When he was ready to turn his back upon an impious and ungrateful world, and had nothing else left him but this excellent religion (which he thought not only worth his three kingdoms, but ten thousand worlds), he gave that to the queen in legacy amongst you. For thus he spake to the king, your brother, and in him all that were his: ' If you never see my face again, I require and entreat you, as your father and as your king, that you never suffer your heart to receive the least check or disaffection from the true religion established in the Church of England. I tell you that I have tried it, and after much search and many disputes, have concluded it to be the best in the world.'"
After this powerful appeal to James's filial love and reverence for his royal father's opinions, Sancroft adverted to his early attachment to the Church of England, and the satisfaction his assiduous attendance at public worship had given to the ministers of the Church. "You stood," observes the eloquent primate, "as it was meet, next to the throne, the eldest son of this now despised Church, and in capacity to become one day the nursing father of it; and we said in our hearts, it may so come to pass that under his shadow, also, we shall sit down and be safe. But alas! it was not long before you withdrew yourself by degrees from thence (we know not how, nor why; God knows); and though we were loath at first to believe our fears, yet they proved at last too mighty for us; and when our eyes failed with looking up for you in that house of our God, and we found you not, instead of fear, sorrow filled our hearts, and we mourn your absence ever since, and cannot be comforted."
Sancroft scrupled not in plain words to reproach James for always withdrawing from the House of Lords when prayers were read. "Now," proceeded he, with pathetic earnestness, "you stab every one of us to the heart. Now, you even break our hearts, when we observe (as all the world doth) that we no sooner address ourselves to Heaven for a blessing upon the public counsels (in which you have yourself, too, so great and high a concern), but immediately you turn your back upon us. We pray," continued he, "for your Royal Highness by name, and can you find it in your heart, sir, a heart so noble and generous, so courteous, too, to throw back all these prayers, and renounce them as so many affronts and injuries to Heaven and to you. If we who now stand before you, sir, should declare (as we do at present, and we hope it misbecomes us not) that we do now actually lift up our hearts, with our hands, unto God in the heavens, that he would be pleased to endue you with His holy spirit, to enrich you with His heavenly grace, to prosper you with all happiness, and to bring you to His everlasting kingdom; can you withhold your soul from going up together with our souls, one entire sacrifice to Heaven to so good and so holy a purpose? Or, if you can, which seems indeed to be the sad state of the case, nor is that action of yours (withdrawing from the prayers), in the common acceptation of mankind, capable of fairer construction, blessed God, what shall we say?"
After some indignant remarks on the narrow and exclusive views of the Church of Borne, Sancroft added: "It is more than time, sir, that you consider seriously between God and your own soul, when you two meet together alone at midnight, what you have done, and where you are; that you remember whence you are fallen, and repent; that at length you open your eyes; and we beseech Almighty God (who only can) to open your heart to better and more impartial information. * * * ' Search the Scriptures whether these things be so or not.'"
He then respectfully offered his own assistance and that of the other bishops to the sailor prince, whose skill in the science of theology was, as he shrewdly suspected, but small, to explain the differences between the two Churches, and assures him they would make the conference as short and easy as possible. "A plain text or two of Scripture," continued he, "and a plain obvious matter of fact, recorded in a hundred books that are in our own language, and in every man's hand, are all we shall trouble your Royal Highness with; and from these so few and humble promises, we doubt not, by God's assistance, to be able to evince that your Royal Highness is bound in conscience, and as you tender the welfare of your immortal soul, immediately to quit the communion and guidance of your stepdame, the Church of Home, and then to return to the bosom of your true, dear, and holy mother, the Church of England."
The duke listened attentively, and with his wonted courtesy to Sancroft's exhortation, which occupied in all nearly half-an-hour, without offering the slightest interruption; but as soon as he had concluded, observed, "that it was painful to be pressed on the subject of his religion just before the meeting of parliament, as anything of that kind must increase the prejudices now prevailing against him." He then asked Sancroft whether he had come by the order of the king, or at the suggestion of the bishops. Sancroft replied, "that his Majesty knew of their intention, but that it originated with the bishops."
The duke observed, "that he had not the slightest doubt of the good intentions of himself and some others of their order, but could not help suspecting that those who had urged that measure intended to do him an injury." He added, "that it would be presumptuous in an unlearned man like himself to enter into controversial disputes with persons of their profound erudition and eloquence; but he would have acquainted them with the reasons of his conversion if he had thought the occasion a proper one for so doing, and his leisure had permitted." He then begged them not to take it amiss that he was compelled, by the great pressure of business, which at that time claimed his time and attention, to dismiss them without entering further into the subject they pressed on his attention.
The popular delusion and agitation excited by Titus Oates' monstrous fulminations, false accusations, and perjuries, purporting to be revelations of a Popish plot for the murder of the king and destruction of the Protestant religion, broke out soon after Sancroft's failure to induce the Duke of York to return to the communion of the Church of England. The natural alarm excited by the unfortunate secession of the heir presumptive of the crown to the Romish creed, caused the absurd fictions of Oates to pass muster with the multitude. Even good, conscientious men overlooked the discrepancy of his statements, and believed them.
The jails were crowded with persons whom Oates denounced as agents and suborners of the pretended plot, and several persons were pronounced guilty and executed on very shallow grounds.
William Howard, Viscount Stafford, an aged Roman Catholic peer, was arrested and lodged in the Tower, and very strictly confined, on the accusation of being one of the principal contrivers of this alleged plot. The king requested Sancroft, on the 21st of January, 1678-9, to visit that unfortunate nobleman and hear his confession, for he had sent word to his majesty that he had something of great importance to reveal, which he would communicate to no one but the king or the Archbishop of Canterbury.
Sancroft has left a curious holograph record of the interview, which has rested unpublished among the Tanner MSS. for nearly two centuries, but as an authentic document of that momentous period is not unworthy of attention. [Vol xxxix., Bodleian Library, Oxford.]
"I took the warrant to the lieutenant," records Sancroft, "and asked whether his Majesty would command me to say anything to the Lord S. from him? He answered ' No. I was only to receive what he (Lord Stafford) told me, and immediately acquaint his Majesty with it.' When I came to the Tower, and had access to the Lord S., he called his servant out of his inner chamber, and desired the guard to keep him without the door, that he might not overhear what was spoken. Then seating me and himself as far from the door as he could, and speaking in a low voice, desiring me to do so too, he by all this caution raised in me great expectation of some mighty discovery.
"He began with a profession of 'his great and deep sense of his Majesty's favour in tendering him so long since his precious pardon, which he should at all times thankfully receive, with all the dutiful acknowledgments which a loyal heart is capable of; but that he could not accept of it as it was then tendered, without wronging truth and himself, in confessing a crime of which he was wholly innocent;' and this he desired me to tell the king, and to beg his excuse therein."
This certifies a fact not generally known, that Charles II. had been persuaded that there was a real plot, sufficiently to offer Lord Stafford a pardon before he was brought to trial, provided he would acknowledge the crime of which he was accused, and disclose all he knew about the designs of the conspirators. "Conditions which, as an innocent man," he truly declared "it was impossible for him to comply with." "He went on," continues Sancroft, "to say that he took it very unkindly; and here his tears broke out and interrupted his discourse awhile; but having resettled his countenance, he went on, that he took it very unkindly, that having known the king and been known of him ever since the king was seven years old, and having had ever since a personal love and affection to him, the king should now use him so severely as to commit him to close prison, not suffering his wife and children to come to him, nor allowing him the air of the Tower, which he complained had injured his health." Sancroft replied "that he ought not to blame the king for any unkindness in the matter, since he was accused of the deadly and horrible treason of conspiring to compass the king's death, and that all persons so accused were subjected to the like rigorous imprisonment; for though to be accused did not make a man guilty, yet it subjected him to all the sad restraints of which he complained."
The unfortunate nobleman protested his innocence of all concern or knowledge of the alleged conspiracy; on which Sancroft, who certainly appears to have been possessed with a strong idea of his guilt, told him "that he had not said anything different from what he had previously done to the lords of the council who had been to examine him, but that he had led the king and himself to suppose that he had something to disclose which would be worth coming so far to hear."
Then the noble prisoner began to speak of Oates, and the infamous life he had led before he pretended to become a Catholic; but Sancroft stopped him, by bidding him reserve all such matters till his trial, where he would have full scope for everything he could say against Oates to invalidate his testimony. "Hereupon," continues Sancroft, "he told me there was one thing he could not help informing the king of. That a little before Tongue and Oates first discovered the plot to the king, they two and a third, whose name he knows not, and one Digby (to whom the late Earl of Bristol gave a legacy, and said in his will that he deserved much more) and Mr. Blood, met day after day, for some time, at a house about the Hay market (an alehouse, he thinks), where their business was not eating or drinking, but writing and copying papers, burning some and transcribing others, and that one was overheard to say to the rest, 'We must make them agree.'
"I asked him who heard these words, but he could not, or would not tell. He desired me, with much earnestness, to tell the king of this. I told him that I had a higher obligation to do that than his request, for the king had commanded me to go back directly to him and tell him what should pass between us. He then desired me to beg of the king that he would conceal this information, for if he should be so happy as to be acquitted at his trial, Blood, if he knew he had mentioned it, would cut his throat."
Stafford bitterly complained that he was denied en, ink, and paper, to which Sancroft replied it was the usual consequence of close imprisonment. Stafford then said he "desired only to write to the king in the presence of the lieutenant, and for him to take away the letter as soon as closed, together with the pen and ink." "I the rather consented to ask of the king this liberty for him," observes Sancroft, "because I had a surmise, that being checked by me in his career against Oates, he might possibly have a design to communicate something more of it, or something of more moment, which he thought not fit to trust me with, by letter, to the king. In conclusion, he repeated his protests of his innocence, and said that when he should come to die, for he verily believed that would be the event of his trial, notwithstanding the caution he had used before, lest Mr. Blood should harm him after his being acquitted, he would at the last gasp use the same protestations and die in them."
Poor Stafford's melancholy presentiment of the event of his trial was only too truly verified in the end. Possibly the strange want of sympathy manifested by the otherwise just and compassionate primate showed him how little he had to expect from the peers temporal of England.
Sancroft told him "that if, as he professed, he did indeed believe that the accusation would cost him his life, he, as a Christian, ought to improve the rigorous confinement of which he complained as a happy opportunity of searching his conscience and preparing himself for death; and that if he felt he had incurred the horrible guilt of which he was suspected, it was necessary to confess it." When the unfortunate prisoner again protested his utter innocence of the charge, Sancroft bade him reflect "whether he had not some unrepented crime on his conscience, which might provoke a just God to bring him to a grievous punishment." Stafford replied "that he had never wronged any one." Among the complaints he desired to be represented to the king, was that he had not the liberty of serving God as he desired. Sancroft then told him that if he served God in the best way he could, it might prove more beneficial than the way he proposed.
The national monomania of "the Popish plot," as it was called, ran its delirious course; but the only concern Sancroft had with it was the above conversation with the Viscount Stafford, in the Tower. That he was prepossessed with a belief in the guilt of the unfortunate old man, and offended by his protestations of innocence, no one who reads his narrative of their conversation can doubt; and that the same delusion pervaded the majority of the peers who sent the hapless victim to the block, is the only apology that can be pleaded for their votes as men and Englishmen.
One of Sancroft's first cares, after his accession to the primacy, was the restoration of the chapel at Lambeth, which had been wantonly desecrated by Thomas Scott, the regicide, to whom the archiepiscopal domain had been granted by the Bound-head parliament in reward of his crimes. Scott scrupled not to profane this place of worship, by turning it into a carousing place for the inebriate orgies of himself and his companions in guilt, where, though professedly fighting in support of "the true evangile," they habitually danced with the wanton and disorderly women who resorted to them there every night.
Not contented with defacing and removing the tomb of the venerable Archbishop Parker, who was interred there, Scott basely violated the remains of the holy man, for the paltry gain of selling the lead in which his body was enclosed, and had his bones flung on a dunghill.
Sancroft caused diligent search to be made for the insulted relics of his worthy predecessor, and when he had succeeded in collecting them he piously restored them to their original resting-place, and caused a Latin sentence to be engraven on a marble slab to mark the spot. The broken monument was restored at his expense and placed in the vestibule of the chapel, with the addition of a brass plate, inscribed with elegant Latin lines of his own composition, indignantly recording the outrage that had been offered to the remains of this good and great man, 'whom all sincere Protestants are bound to venerate as one of the Fathers of the Reformation.
Though Sancroft was unfeignedly devoted to the welfare of the Church of England, he was greatly respected by Catharine of Braganza, Charles II.'s Roman Catholic queen, who paid due attention to all his recommendations in the distribution of her charities.
Henry, Earl of Clarendon, writes to Sancroft, from Newmarket, September 9th, 1681:--"As soon as I acquainted the queen with what you wrote, her Majesty very readily condescended to give her letter to Mr. Bradshaw, being fully satisfied she could not place her charity better than on the person whom your grace thought fit to recommend. Their Majesties will be at Whitehall on Wednesday next, and the very next day, God willing, I will wait on your grace with the queen's letter. In the mean time, I shall give you no farther trouble, but most humbly to beg your benediction."
Sancroft's time was unremittingly devoted to the duties of his high vocation, and his revenues to the augmentation of the small livings of the Church. He secured to the curate and preacher of Maidstone, a thickly populated, but miserably endowed parish, a better maintenance. The living of his native Fressingfield he considerably augmented, and founded and endowed a parish school, which proved of great benefit to that neighbourhood. Instead of renewing the lease of the impropriated rectorial tithes of Postling, in Kent, he devoted it for the permanent improvement of the inadequate income of the vicar. It was to objects of this nature that he appropriated the mighty revenues of Canterbury; but with all his munificent charities, his self-denial, and unremitting endeavours to assist the hard-working servants of the Church, he had the mortification of finding himself misrepresented and traduced by those who could not imitate his virtues.
He speaks with some bitterness on this subject, in a letter written July 5, 1683, to his friend the comptroller:--"To do well and even for so doing to be evil spoken of, is many times in this world the portion of well-meaning men. That a suit concerning tithe pay is commenced or threatened by my particular direction, or by any direction at all from me, is a great and foul slander upon me, whoever is the author, of which pray inform yourself particularly. And that I intend an augmentation of the chapelries to be had out of the purses of the inhabitants, is a most malicious calumny. God Almighty knows (and better than any man but myself, you know), that what I should receive upon the renewing of this lease, I intended should be bestowed for the good (the spiritual good) and welfare of those inhabitants; and when their heats are over, and their eyes a little cleared to look upon things as they are, I hope," adds he sarcastically, "they will forgive me this wrong. They may consider, if they please, that wise men never throw away an opportunity of doing themselves good, which for aught they know will never return. And sure I am they cannot be certain that the next archbishop will, frankly and unasked, throw a thousand marks into their laps, to be expended entirely for the good of their souls. And yet I am prepared and resolved to do this for them; but under my former express proviso, that if they expect I should do for them what I am no ways obliged to, they should do something also for themselves. For both God and man justly abandon those that will not help themselves when they may. Had I designed my own worldly advantage, I might have spared myself and you a great deal of care and trouble, and concluded the matter with my tenant, without noise, and long since have taken the money into my pocket. But I thank God my charity to them showed me a more excellent way. And though I am not by them handsomely rewarded for it, yet I know who it is that accepts intentions and endeavours (if they be real and sincere), arid writes them up in His book of attempts as actual performances. But, though I can thus satisfy and comfort myself, I am infinitely unwilling to give over a design in which God may have some glory and men some benefit, because of the frowardness of those I have to deal with about it. There are a sort of men to whom we must do good whether they will or no; and therefore I will give them time to bethink themselves, by holding to the resolution I have constantly declared to the Lord Cheyney, never to renew the lease, unless it may be to the advantage of these unendowed chapelries."
Very closely did the cases of all unendowed churches and chapelries lie to the heart of the apostolic primate, and strenuously did he labour to assist and encourage the disinterested ministers by whom they were served. In the meantime he was a liberal contributor to all national charities. He contributed a thousand pounds towards the establishment of Chelsea College. His hospitality was unbounded, and the poor of Lambeth were almost entirely fed from his kitchen.
Mild and benevolent as he was in his personal demeanour, Sancroft was nevertheless a strict enforcer of clerical discipline, and vigilantly put down all abuses that came under his observance. He scrupled not to suspend Dr. Wood, Bishop of Lichfield and Coventry, from the exercise of his episcopal functions, on account of his neglect of his diocese and other misdemeanours, although Wood was under the especial patronage of the Duchess of Cleveland, whose son, the Duke of Southampton, was married to his niece. Sancroft, however, performed his duty with the conscientious intrepidity which formed one of his leading characteristics, and the king manifested no displeasure.
The Archdeacon of Lincoln being convicted of simony, petitioned the king for pardon, and on his Majesty referring the petition to the consideration of the archbishop, his grace, in his reply, uses the following energetic language:--
"Sire, the crime he stands convicted of, is a pestilence that walketh in darkness, too often committed but very seldom found out. And now there is a criminal detected, if your Majesty thinks fit, which God forbid, to rescue him from the penalty, the markets of Simon Magus will be more frequented than ever. Much rather, since he hath the courage to appeal to the delegates, to the delegates let him go; which yet, with all the rest, is humbly submitted to your Majesty's wisdom and justice."
When Charles II. lay in his death-agony, Sancroft endeavoured to awaken him to a sense of his spiritual danger, by urging the necessity of self-recollection and repentance of his sinful and sensual life, and warning him "that he was about to appear in the presence of One who was no respecter of persons." His eloquence was unavailing; Charles had determined to die in the communion of the Church of Rome.