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 IV.

ARCHBISHOP SANCROFT went forth from Lambeth, after he had been in the receipt of its large revenues fourteen years, poor as when he first entered it, taking nothing with him but his staff and his books. He had devoted all the incomings of his see to the noble objects of amplifying small livings, assisting in rebuilding St. Paul's Cathedral and founding Chelsea College, in liberal hospitality to the clergy, and boundless charity to the poor, almost entirely feeding those of Lambeth. The day after he left the palace he sent them a farewell present; his household establishment there was broken up at the same time, and his steward paid all his servants up to the following Michaelmas.

Sancroft left London for ever on the 3rd of August, 1691, and arrived at his native village of Fressingfield, in Suffolk, on the 5th; thus performing the journey, a distance of ninety miles, in two days, an uncommonly quick rate of travelling for that period.

"When once I got into the coach," writes he to his friend, Sir Henry North, "I resolved, according to my usual impatience, to push on the journey, and play it off as fast as I could endure it, and accordingly we went at the utmost stretch, as you have heard. My weariness soon went off, but methinks some weakness still remains."

In another letter he says:--

"Our health, God be thanked, is as it used to be, or rather better. The sweet air and quiet of this place is much to be preferred to the smoke and noise of London."

His Lambeth chaplain, Henry Wharton, came to visit him two days after his arrival at Fressingfield, and found him well and cheerful. Both Wharton and his own cousin, the Rev. Mr. Green, offered to attend him as chaplains in his retreat, but he replied, with thanks, "I must now be my own chaplain; it suits not with my present condition still to keep up that piece of state." Besides, the old house was too full to have room to accommodate any supernumeraries.

The old paternal mansion, Ufford Hall, to which he had returned in his old age, appears, during the long term of years that had elapsed from the period when he left it in 1657 to travel on the continent, to have been the home of his brother and other members of his family. Unwilling to disturb the domestic arrangements of his married nephews, Sancroft had ordered a cottage to be erected for himself at the end of the garden, where he might live near them, without interrupting them or being disquieted by the noise of their children. This cottage home was progressing when the deprived archbishop arrived, but not so near its completion as he could have wished, for the workmen had deserted their hoes, trowels, hammers, and saws, for the more agreeable occupation of working in the hay- and harvest-fields.

"We build not," writes Sancroft, "at the rate we travelled at, though, hay and harvest being in, we have recovered all our gang. Yesterday we had thirty or forty at the raising of the gallery, and it stands now in my view, from the window I write by, like the bones of a dead body which you have read upon at Chirurgeons' Hall, tacked together with wires; but it will take so much time to daub and tile, to clothe and cover it, and St. Bartholomew is so near with his dews and mists, that I despair of dwelling in it this winter."

On the 11th of November the deprived primate writes:--

"Our work without doors ended with the last month; which, had it been as severe as October sometimes is, we could not have finished in this month; but we have a winter's work still to do within doors, in paving, and planchering (Suffolk for flooring), and daubing, and ceiling, and plastering, and glazing, and wainscoting, making doors, laying-hearths, etc., etc.; so that we find it a very troublesome thing to bring a new (as well as an old) house over our heads. In the meantime, the old tenement is packed as close as it can well be, from end to end, with ourselves, and children, and servants, and workmen. Yet our contentment here is as great, and I should be unthankful should I not acknowledge that our health is rather better than elsewhere; our food plainer, but eaten with a better appetite; our course of employment and action the very same, only not scened so illustriously, nor set off with such good company and conversation. The trouble of visits is well abated, and the hard weather and ill ways which are at hand will put an end to them, and we shall be in as great retirement and solitude as our enemies, or we ourselves, could wish. We make shift to say our prayers together daily, though not in so much company nor in so proper a place as at Lambeth; but God, I trust, will accept us."

In a previous letter he tells his friend his cough is not so loud or troublesome to himself or others as it used to be at Lambeth; and now he says, "My native air hath been very kind to me."

Sancroft felt much solicitude for his friend the deprived Bishop Ken.

"It grieves me," he writes, "to have missed, when I was so nigh it, the seeing of my reverend brother of Bath and Wells. I am not surprised to hear that his innocency and courage was so bold as to appear openly, but am, I confess, that he did it safely. In that condition God preserve him and the rest, especially my dear brother of Norwich."

For himself he refused the proffered civility of a friend of having his foreign correspondence transmitted through the secretary of state's office, or franked by any of the government officials. All the nonjuring clergy were objects of suspicion, but more especially the deprived primate who headed that list.

"The spirit of calumny," writes he, "the persecution of the tongue, dogs me even into this wilderness."

In reference to the secluded life he had been leading at Fressingfield ever since he had retired to Ufford Hall, he says:--

"I was never so much as once out of this poor house and the yards and avenues since I came first directly from London into it."

Those yards and avenues, to which the venerable archbishop confined his walks, are still distinctive features in the approach to. that secluded mansion. In consequence of the enclosure of the park-like green which then surrounded the house, those avenues have now become lanes between cultivated fields, but the yards remain unchanged; and we could almost realise the form of the venerable primate pacing beneath the spreading branches of the picturesque yew-trees flanking the entrance-gate of the front court, under whose shadow he had sported in infancy and boyhood with his brother and sisters.

After he retired into his native Suffolk he allowed his beard to grow, which, becoming very long, gave him a hermit-like appearance. So much was he beloved and revered in that neighbourhood, that whenever he appeared in the village the people were accustomed to kneel to him for his pastoral benediction.

It is an extraordinary fact that he inspired with the most ardent enthusiasm, at this period, one of the hardest and earthiest of all mortal minds that had been shone on by the light of genius--that of Jonathan Swift, who commemorates the primate's noble self-sacrifice in his "Ode to Truth," a poem little known, but well deserving of being rescued from oblivion. We give the following brief quotation:--

"Thus Sancroft, in the greatness of retreat,
Shows lustre that was shaded in his seat;
Dim glimmerings of the prelate glorified,
Which all his purple robings served to hide.

"Oh, whatsoe'er our levellers deem,
There are degrees above, I know,
The angel-muse, herself,
Has told me so,
Where souls of purest truth throned in the day,
Sit clad in light of brighter-woven ray.
There some high place to Sancroft will be given
In the metropolis of heaven;
Chief of the mitred saints,
And from archprelate here,
Translated to archangel there."

The crowded state of Ufford Hall was unfavourable to his studious and reflective habits, and Sancroft found it expedient, on the advance of winter, to provide himself with a temporary abode till his cottage should be completed. The instrument by which he appointed Dr. Lloyd, the deprived Bishop of Norwich, his vicar in all ecclesiastical matters, is dated from his "hired house at Fressingfield, February 9, 1691(2)."

Sancroft did not allow the legality of his deposition from the primacy by William and Mary, whose title to the sovereignty of England he always refused to acknowledge in any way. In the deputation of his office to Dr. Lloyd, he states "that, having been driven by a lay force from the house of Lambeth, and not finding in the neighbouring city a place where he could conveniently abide, he had retired afar off, seeking where in his old age he might rest his weary head; but as there were many affairs of great moment to be transacted in the Church which could be best ordered by one resident in London or its vicinity, he appoints Dr. Lloyd his vicar, and commits to him all the authority belonging to his archiepiscopal office."

The Reverend Baptist Levenge, Bishop of Sodor and Man, though he had taken the oaths to William and Mary, could not refrain from expressing his respect and admiration for his old friend and late ecclesiastical superior, the deprived nonjuring primate, to whom he addressed the following affectionate and reverential letter:--

"March 2Sth, 1691.


"Being to take a tedious journey, upon Easter Monday I intend to set out to my desolate place, my Patmos, your grace used to term it, I cannot but send this to beg your blessing and good prayers along with me, these dangerous times.

"I had, ever since I had the honour to know you, a very high veneration and respect for your grace, nor is my value at all lessened for you by the diminution of your fortunes. Calamity is but the touchstone of your virtues, and through this cloud your sincerity, your constancy, and other excellent endowments shine the brighter, and thereupon heighten my esteem for the most pious and admirable owner of them. I dare say no more, for your grace's modesty permits it not; yet still give me leave to love and honour you, and, as an abundant compensation, be pleased to bestow your benediction upon

"My lord,

"Your grace's most dutiful son, and

"Most obliged humble servant,

"B. S. M."
[Tanner MSS., vol. xxvi., Bodleian Library. Baptist Levenge was appointed Bishop of Sodor and Man, in 1684, when Dr. Lake was translated to Bristol. Levenge died in 1698.]

It was not till the 17th of September, 1692, that Sancroft's cottage was so far completed as to allow of his taking up his abode there. On the 27th of that month he writes to Sir H. North:--

"I have now slept ten nights in my new lodging, and would gladly say, if it so please God, in nido meo moriar; but the changes of the world are so many, and the malice of men so great, my lot may be that of the prophet, 'Arise and depart, for this is not your rest.' If so it be, God's will be done. Behold the servant of the Lord, be it unto me according to His word."

His intense desire of peace and quiet in this obscure corner of England did not prevent the deprived archbishop from being an object of suspicion to the Court, and he was often accused of seditious meetings and secret correspondence with the agents of his old master.

"I think if I should immure myself between four walls," writes the venerable recluse, "I should, notwithstanding, be thought to send and receive letters and intelligence, I know not whether by the pigeons of Aleppo or Leyden, or perhaps by the old romantic post, Sir Pacolet on his wooden horse. It is somewhat strange that I should be accused to one prince of having invited his Highness of Nassau to invade my native country, and to another of inviting his cousin the King of France hither; whereas I should as soon have consulted the witch of Endor, were she to be found, to bring about anything I desired, as to have made either of those addresses.

Queen Mary could not be satisfied without sending spies occasionally to see how the deprived primate was engaged. Sometimes her agents found him employed in his garden, but mostly in arranging his predecessor Archbishop Laud's diary and papers for publication.

Sancroft had wholly weaned his mind from all care for the pomps and state which necessarily surrounded him at Lambeth.

"It is long since," wrote he to his friend, "that I said of that great pile, even while I was in it, the old Leonine verse--'Nunc mea, nunc hujus, sed post ea nescio cujus.' When I was suddenly driven out of it at eight or nine o'clock at night, I wish it were known how cheerfully I turned my back upon it. and how soundly I slept the night following under another man's roof. But, now in this cottage of my own building (this lodge in a garden of cucumbers, questa povera mia capanna), I am as well to my contentment as the greatest he qui late et laxe et magnifice habitat. All my fear is, lest I should be forced from hence too, for I would fain say, if I durst, as holy Job did, 'in nido meo moriar.' But, alas! he was mistaken, and so may I, should I say so; and therefore I lay my hand upon my mouth and say nothing; but as it pleaseth God so come things to pass. Sufficient to the day is the evil thereof, as wisdom itself said. . . . Afford me your prayers, dear friend, that when I remove from hence (and that cannot be far off), I may, by God's mercy, have a building of God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens."

Sixteen years previously, Sancroft, ever mindful of the one great event which must happen to all living, had, when Dean of St. Paul's, paid a flying visit to his friends and kindred in "the old house at home," and chosen the quiet nook in the green churchyard of Fressingfield, in the angle between the eastern side of the church porch and the southern wall of the church. He had thus provided, with a view of preventing the improper fashion being followed in his own case, then and till within the last few years so prevalent, of desecrating the house of God with the remains of corrupt mortality.

Nearly opposite to that spot which, while in sound health, he had chosen for his domus ultima, Sancroft caused a comfortable cottage to be built for the parish-clerk, and also a sort of temperance hostelry for the shelter and accommodation of persons who came from the distant parts of that large scattered parish to attend divine worship at Fressingfield church, so that they might bring their cold provisions there, and take their meal in the recess between morning and evening services. These primitive edifices still remain in good repair, and greatly add to the picturesque effect of that beautiful churchyard, which hangs on a gentle green swelling hill. The vicarage, with its pretty garden and fruitful orchard bowers, is pleasantly seated on an opposite eminence above the road, and a little rill runs below the white-railed causeway. Sancroft's school is close at hand, and has been a blessing to the rising generations for nearly two centuries; and under the judicious superintendence of the present learned and benevolent vicar, the Rev. W. R. Colbeck, formerly tutor of Emmanuel College, continues to flourish.

Sancroft had seen spring twice fling her green mantle over the pastoral meads of Fressingfield since he had been ejected from his archiepiscopal palace, and found rest from the turmoils of public life in his native village. The infirmities of age now increased rapidly upon him, and he was desirous of devising his paternal inheritance to his beloved nephews without making a will, which would require to be proved in the courts of the new Archbishop of Canterbury, the legality of whose title he never acknowledged.

While in this perplexity, Mr. Roger North, who had been the steward of his archiepiscopal courts, came to visit him in his Fressingfield cottage, and advised him to evade this difficulty by making a deed of gift of the property to his nephews, reserving a life interest in it for himself. Sancroft gladly availed himself of this suggestion, and immediately acted upon it by requesting Mr. North to draw up the deed then and there. Much surprised was that gentleman at the small amount of property which he, who had been nearly fourteen years primate of England, had to devise. "It touched my spirits extremely to see the low estate of this poor old saint," is Mr. North's comment on the glorious poverty of the deprived archbishop.

In the commencement of August, 1693, Sancroft began seriously to apply himself to the self-imposed task "of editing the diary and papers of Archbishop Laud. But it was all too late. The brain at seventy-seven is not in a state to support severe literary labour, even when undertaken con amore. The original of Laud's diary, with many of the papers relating to it, lay before him on his desk, and he was earnestly employed in noting down his comments and observations, when he was stricken, August 25th, with the slow, intermittent fever, which put a stop to his work and confined him to his bed.

Anticipating a fatal termination to his illness, he expressed an earnest desire to see his late chaplain, Henry Wharton, for the purpose of consigning to him the completion of his task. Wharton, in the mean time having heard of his illness, hastened to visit him, and arrived at Pressing-field on the 31st of October. Sancroft told him "that he had often designed to prepare the papers of Laud for publication, and having at last set about it in good earnest, he had been interrupted by an attack of sickness, that would probably end in death, and feeling his own inability to complete the design, he wished to bequeath it to his care." He then caused the papers, together with all the notes and collections he had made on the subject, to be placed in Wharton's hands. Fatigued with this exertion, his voice became indistinct, and on Wharton requiring information on several points, especially how the papers came into Archbishop Sheldon's hands, from whom Sancroft had received them, he answered, "These are material questions, but I am weary with speaking; my spirits are faint, and I cannot at present tell you more--you must come again."

Wharton revisited him on the 21st of November, and perceived that he was rapidly drawing near his end. Sancroft himself had from the very commencement of his illness looked death calmly in the face. In his greatest sufferings he was accustomed to call to mind the example of the Saviour's patience, and would say, "As a lamb carried to the slaughter, He was dumb and opened not His mouth."

"That which came nearest to a complaint," records the narrator of his closing scene, "was only a description of his wasting condition, in these pious words, 'Thy hand is heavy upon me day and night, my moisture is like the drought in summer.' I am low, but must be brought lower yet, even to the dust of death; but though He kill me, yet will I trust in Him."

On the occasion of Wharton's last visit, Sancroft bade him look over his papers, which had not been opened or put in order since his removal from Lambeth. Wharton commenced the investigation in the presence of his dying patron, and continued it till he observed so unmistakable a change come over him, that he thought it better to desist and retire from the chamber. Sancroft roused himself from the death-like faintness that was creeping upon him, and took his last leave of Wharton with the kindest demonstrations of affection, giving his blessing twice in the most solemn manner as he knelt by his bed-side. He expressed, in the most humble manner, "repentance of all his sins, and his hopes and assurance of a better state of existence."

Henry Wharton scarcely survived his beloved and revered patron sixteen months, having only lived to publish the first volume of Archbishop Laud's diary and remains. He gave the whole credit of his extraordinary success in his literary and theological career to the encouragement and assistance he had derived from Archbishop Sancroft, to whom, notwithstanding the opposition in their opinions in regard to the settlement of the government, he continued tenderly attached.

The arrival of his other faithful chaplain, Mr. Needham, was peculiarly welcome to the dying archbishop, for he had empowered him, at his last visit, to fulfil his intention of presenting his choice and valuable library of classic and scientific books to Emmanuel College, Needham having taken upon himself the care of removing them from the warehouse at Lambeth, whither they had been sent by him previous to his ejection from the palace. The mission had been performed satisfactorily by Needham, who was the bearer of a letter of thanks from the master of Emmanuel College, gratefully acknowledging this important gift and token of the affectionate remembrance of their learned and beloved archbishop. Sancroft was exceedingly pleased with the letter, and signified his wish that the more learned and scientific portion of his library at Fressingfield, which he had retained for his own use, should, after his death, be added to his gift to Emmanuel College; observing, "that he intended part of his books to be left for the use of the family there, for instance, so much of history, geography, and the arts as might form a good library for a gentleman, but that books of learning should be sent to the college, there to be kept entirely together as a monument of his great affection for learning, and the delight he had taken in it all his life; adding, that he was very unwilling to have that library dissipated, the collection of which had been one of the greatest comforts and pleasures of his life."

After solemnly bestowing his blessing on Needham, the dying primate said: "You and I have gone different ways in these late affairs, but I trust heaven's gates are wide enough to admit us both. What I have done I have done in the integrity of my heart."

Mr. Needham modestly attempted to explain the motives which had influenced his conduct, to which Sancroft replied: "I always took you for an honest man. What I said concerning myself was only to let you know that what I have done I have done in the integrity of my heart. Yea, in the great integrity of my heart."

He had intended to receive the sacrament from Mr. Edwards, the ejected minister of Eye; but Dr. Trumbull, who had formerly been his chaplain, and was now a nonjuror, came accidentally to see him the day before he died, and he thankfully availed himself of his ministry.

About an hour before his death he told those who stood round him that he retained the same thoughts of the present state of affairs as those under which he had acted; and that if it were to do again, he should quit all he had in the world rather than violate his conscience. He concluded by putting up these two hearty and earnest petitions to God, "that He would bless and preserve His poor suffering Church, which by the revolution is almost destroyed, and that He would bless and preserve the exiled king, the queen, and the prince, and in due time restore them to their just and undoubted rights."

A short time before he expired he called for the Book of Common Prayer, and though one was brought to him of the smallest print, he himself turned to the commendatory prayer in the office for the sick, and ordered it to be read. This done he solemnly composed himself for death, and gently breathed his last sigh a little after midnight on the morning of Friday, November the 24th.

He was interred on the night of Monday, November the 27th, in the spot he had chosen sixteen years before, in Fressingfield churchyard.

A plain, handsome, altar-shaped tomb, with his armorial bearings, his mitre, and crosier sculptured on the black marble slab that surmounts it, covers the remains of the venerable primate. The sides are faced with white polished marble, veined with grey, and bear the following inscriptions, which he had prepared with his own hand, with instructions for placing them. On the right side:--


On the left side:--


"William Sancroft was born in this parish. Afterwards, by the providence of God, Archbishop of Canterbury; who, after he had lost all which he could not keep with a good conscience, returned hither to end his life, where he began it; and professeth here, at the foot of his tomb, that, as naked he came forth, so naked he must return. The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; as the Lord pleaseth, so come things to pass. Blessed be the name of the Lord."

Over his head the following verse from St. Matthew, xxiv. 27:--

"As the lightning cometh out of the east and shineth even unto the west, so shall the coming of the Son of Man be."

Though upwards of a century and a half have passed away, the tomb and its autobiographical inscriptions remain in perfect preservation. His memory is held in traditional veneration by the villagers of Fressingfield, whose forefathers owed their civilizing, education to his munificent care. A square space, richly carpeted with green turf, has been railed off to preserve this monument from accidental injuries.

The entry of Archbishop Sancroft's death is preserved in the parish register of Fressingfield, as well as the record of his birth. The assertion of his unscrupulous libeller, Burnet, of his having raised a large estate out of the revenues of Canterbury, and left it to his family, has been fully disproved in Sancroft's documentary life by Dr. D'Oyley, who had access to the family papers of his representative, Mr. Holmes, of Gawdy Hall.

The small silver chalice and patina used by Sancroft in his domestic chapel, and his little clock in a black and gold case, are in the possession of Mrs. Hopper, one of his collateral descendants, at Starston vicarage. His episcopal carved oaken chair, a portion of his library, together with his most interesting portrait in middle life, are preserved at Gawdy Hall, the seat of his youthful representative, Sancroft Holmes, Esq.

Swift, a keen and observant contemporary, has written this indignant comment in the margin of his copy of "Burnet's History of His Own Times," "False as hell," against the statement that "Sancroft was too intent on enriching his nephew, to have courage to oppose the measures of the court." But the best contradiction is supplied by Burnet himself, in the following heartless sneer at Sancroft's poverty, and the frugality necessitated by his narrow means. "He died in the same poor and despicable manner as he had lived for some years." Truly, false witnesses require good memories.

The books presented by Archbishop Sancroft to Emmanuel College were valued at 2500l. In these, and in building and furnishing the cottage, which he compared to a lodge in a garden of cucumbers, the savings of his long life were invested.

His small estate in Fressingfield was his patrimonial inheritance.

We can scarcely conclude his biography more appropriately than with the following lines on his last years and death, by the late Rev. William Mitford, literary editor of the "Gentleman's Magazine:

He left high Lambeth's venerable towers
For his small heritage and humble bowers.
* * * *
Now with his staff on his paternal ground,
Amid his orchard trees he may be found;
An old man, late returned, where he was seen
Sporting, a child, upon the village green.
How many a changeful year had passed between,
Blanching his scattered hair, yet left him there
A soul kept young by piety and prayer!
That to his mourning friend could meekly tell,
'Be not for me afflicted, it is well,
It was in my integrity I fell.'"

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