Sancroft, Dr. William

, an eminent English prelate, was born at Fresingfield, in Suffolk, Jan. 30, 1616, and educated in grammar-learning at St. Edmund’s Bury, where he was equally remarkable for diligent application to his studies, and a pious disposition .*


Among bishop Tanner’s Mss. in the Bodleian library is the followingletter from him to his father, dated Sept. 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 upon my endeavours, I may become an instrument in any measure tilted to bear his name before his peopie, 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 to be spent upon the work.

In July 1634, he was sent to Emanuel college in Cambridge, where he became very accomplished in all branches of literature, took his degree of B. A. in 1637, and that of M. A. in 1641, and was in 1642 chosen fellow of his college. His favourite studies were theology, criticism, history, and poetry ,

Among his papers at Oxford is a very considerable collection of poetry, but Chiefly religious, exactly and elegantly transcribed with his own hand, while a fellow of Emanuel. Some of these are from the first edition of Milton’s lesser poems, which Mr. Warton observes is perhaps the only instance on record of their having received for almost seventy years, any slight mark of attention or notice. Bancroft, adds Mr. Warton, even to his maturer years, retained his strong early predilection to polite literature, which he still continued to cultivate; and from these and other remains of his studies in that ursuit, now preserved in the Bodleiau library, it appears that he was a diligent reader of the poetry of his times, both in English and Latin. Warton’s edition of Milton’s Poems, 1785, preface, p. v.

but in all his acquirements he was humble and unostentatious. In 1648 he took the degree of B. D. It is supposed he never subscribed the covenant^ and that this was connived at, because he continued unmolested in his fellowship till 1649; at which time, refusing the engagement, he was ejected. Upon this he went abroad, and became acquainted with the most considerable of the loyal English exiles; and, it is | said, he was at Rome when Charles II. was restored. He immediately returned to England, and was made chaplain to Cosin, bishop of Durham, who collated him to the rectory of Houghton-le-Spring, and to the ninth prebend of Durham in March 1661. In the same year he assisted in reviewing the Liturgy, particularly in rectifying the Kalendar and Rubric. In 1662 he was created, by mandamus, D. D. at Cambridge, and elected master of Emanuel college, which he governed with great prudence. In 1664 he was promoted to the deanery of York, which although he held but a few months, he expended on the buildings about 200l. more than he had received. Upon the death of Dr. John Barwick he was removed to the deanery of St. Paul’s; soon after which, he resigned the mastership of Emanuel college, and the rectory of Houghton. On his coming to St. Paul’s he set himself most diligently to repair that cathedral, which had suffered greatly from the savage zeal of the republican fanatics in the civil wars, till the dreadful fire in 1666 suggested the more noble undertaking of rebuilding it. Towards this he gave 1400l. besides what he procured by his interest and solicitations among his private friends, and in parliament, where he obtained the act for laying a duty on coals for the rebuilding of the cathedral. He also rebuilt the deanery, and improved the revenues of it. In Oct. 1668, he was admitted archdeacon of Canterbury, on the king’s presentation, which he resigned in 1670. He was also prolocutor of the lower house of convocation; and was in that station when Charles II. in 1677, advanced him, contrary to his knowledge or inclination, to the archiepiscopal see of Canterbury. In 1678 he published some useful directions concerning letters testimonial to candidates for holy orders. He was himself very conscientious in the admission to orders or the disposal of livings, always preferring men of approved abilities, great learning, and exemplary life. He attended king Charles upon his death-bed, and made a very weighty exhortation to him, in which he is said to have used a good deal of freedom. In 1686 he was named the first in James I I.‘s commission for ecclesiastical affairs; but be refused to act in it. About the same time he suspended Wood, bishop of Lichfield and Coventry, for residing out of and neglecting his diocese. As one of the governors of the Charter-house, he refused to admit as pensioner in that hospital Andrew Popham, a papist, although he came | with a nomination from the court. In June 1688, he joined with six of his brethren the bishops in the famous petition to king James, in which they gave their reasons why they could not cause his declaration for liberty of conscience to be read in churches. For this petition, which the court called a libel, they were committed to the Tower; and, being tried for a misdemeanor on the 29th, were acquitted, to the great joy of the nation. This year the archbishop projected the vain expedient of a comprehension with the protestant dissenters. We have the following account of this in the speech of Dr. W. Wake, bishop of Lincoln, in the house of lords, March 17, 1710, at the opening of the second article of the impeachment against Dr. Sacheverell. “The person,” says he, “who 6rst concerted this design was the late most reverend Dr. Sancroft, then archbishop of Canterbury. The time was towards the end of that unhappy reign of king James II. Then, when we were in the height of our labours, defending the Church of England against the assaults of popery, and thought of nothing else, that wise prelate foreseeing some such revolution as soon after was happily brought about, began to consider how utterly unprepared they had been at the restoration of king Charles II. to settle many things to the advantage of the Church, and what happy opportunity had been lost for want of such a previous care, as he was therefore desirous should now be taken, for the better and more perfect establishment of it. It was visible to all the nation, that the more moderate dissenters were generally so well satisfied with that stand which our divines had made agaiust popery, and the many unanswerable treatises they had published in confutation of it, as to express an unusual readiness to come in to us. And it was therefore thought worth the while, when they were deliberating about those other matters, to consider at the same time what might be done to gain them without doing any prejudice to ourselves. The scheme was laid out, and the several parts of it were committed, not only with the approbation, but by the direction of that great prelate, to such of our divines, as were thought the most proper to he intrusted with it. His grace took one part to himself; another was committed to a then pious and reverend dean (Dr. Patrick), afterwards a bishop of our church. The reviewing of the daily service of our Liturgy, and the Communion Book, was referred to a select number of excellent persons, two of which (archbishop | Sharp, and Dr. Moore) are at this time upon our bench and I am sure will bear witness to the truth of my relation. The design was in short this: to improve, and, if possible, to inforce our discipline to review and enlarge our Liturgy, by correcting of some things, by adding of others and if it should be thought adviseable by authority, when this matter should come to be legally considered, first in convocation, then in parliament, by leaving some few ceremonies, confessed to be indifferent in their natures as indifferent in their usage, so as not to be necessarily observed by those who made a scruple of them, till they should be able to overcome either their weaknesses or prejudices, and be willing to comply with them.” In October, accompanied with eight of his- brethren the bishops, Sancroft waited upon the king, who had desired the assistance of their counsels; and advised him, among other things, to annul the ecclesiastical commission, to desist from the exercise of a dispensing power, and to call a free and regular parliament. A few days after, though earnestly pressed by his majesty, he refused to sign a declaration of abhorrence of the prince of Orange’s invasion. In December, on king James’s withdrawing himself, he is said to have signed, and concurred with the lords spiritual and temporal, in a declaration to the prince of Orange, for a free parliament, security of our laws, liberties, properties, and of the church of England in particular, with a due indulgence to protestant dissenters. But in a declaration signed by him Nov. 3, 1688, he says that “he never gave the prince any invitation by word, writing, or otherwise;” it must therefore have been in consequence of the abdication that he joined with the lords in the above declaration. Yet when the prince came to St. James’s, the archbishop neither went to wait on him, though he had once agreed to it, nor did he even send any message.*

Bishop Nicolson, in one of his letters lately published, seems to hint that Sancroft was more active in promoting the revolution than has been supposed. After censuring him for not paying his respects to the new king, Ricolson says, tf I should rather choose to follow him in the more frank and open passages of his life, than in this unaccountably dark and mysterious instance; especially, since I had tacitly consented to his seizing the Tower of London, and his address to the prince of Orange to accept the government." Nicolson’s Epistolary Correspondence, by Mr. Nichols, 2 vols. 8vo, 180?. vol. I. p. 11.

He absented himself likewise from the convention, for which he is severely censured by Burnet, who calls him “a poor-spirited and fearful man, that acted a very mean part in all this great | transaction. He resolved,” says he, “neither to act for, nor against, the king’s interest; which, considering his higli post, was thought very unbecoming. For, if he thought, as by his behaviour afterwards it seems he did, that the nation was running into treason, rebellion, and perjury, it was a strange thing to see one who was at the head of the church to sit silent all the while that this was in debate, and not once so much as declare his opinion, by speaking, voting, or protesting, not to mention the other ecclesiastical methods that certainly be.came his character.

After William and Mary were settled on the throne, he and seven other bishops refused to own the established government, from a conscientious regard to the allegiance they had sworn to king James. Refusing likewise to take the oaths appointed by act of parliament, he and they were suspended Aug. 1, 1689, and deprived the 1st of Feb. following. On the nomination of Dr. Tillotson to this see, April 23, 1691, our archbishop received an order, from the then queen Mary, May 20, to leave Lambethhouse within ten days. But he, resolving not to stir till ejected by law, was cited to appear before the barons of the exchequer on the first day of Trinity-term, June 12, 1691, to answer a writ of intrusion; when he appeared by his attorney; but, avoiding to put in any plea, as the case stood, judgment passed against him, in the form of law, June 23, and the same evening he took boat in Lambethbridge, and went to a private house in Palsgrave-headcourt, near the Temple. Thence, on Aug. 5, 1691, he retired to Fresingfield (the place of his birth, and the estate [50l. a year] and residence of his ancestors above three hundred years), where he lived in a very private manner, till, being seized with an intermitting fever, Aug. 26, 1693, he died on Friday morning, Nov. 24, and was buried very privately, as he himself had ordered, in Fresingfield churchyard. Soon after, a tomb was erected over his grave, with an inscription composed by himself; on the right side of which there is an account of his age and dying-day in Latin; on the left, the following English: “William Sancroft, born in this parish, afterwards by the providence of God archbishop of Canterbury, at last deprived of all, which he could not keep with a good conscience, returned hither to end his life, 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 pleases, so things come to pass), blessed be the name of the Lord.” The character Burnet has given of him is not an amiable one, nor in some respects a true one ,*


Burnet was out of humour with the archbishop for not procuring him access to the Cotton collection when he was preparing his History of the Reformation; but on this subject see a curious note on Dean Swift’s “Preface to the bishop of Sarum’s Introduction.” Works, edit. 1801, p. 384.

yet he allows, what none could deny, that archbishop Sancroft was a good man. He bestowed great sums of money in charity and endowments, and was particularly bountiful to Emanuel college in Cambridge: and he certainly gave the strongest instance possible of sincerity, in sacrificing the highest dignity to what he thought truth and honesty; and although his opposition both to James II. and William III. may appear rather irreconcileable, we have the testimony of those who knew him best, that he did every thing in the integrity of his heart .

Some particulars of his sickness are related in a pamphlet printed at London, 1694, in 4to, with this title: “A Letter out of Suffolk to a friend in London; giving some account of the last sickness and death of Dr. William Sancroft, late lord archbishop of Canterbury.” We are informed by bishop Kennet, that as he lay upon his death bed, and one of his former chaplains, Mr. Needham, came to him, he gave him his blessing very affectionately, and. after some other talk, said thus to him, “You and I have gone different ways in these late affairs; but I trust heaven-gates are wide enough to receive us both. What I have done, I have done in the integrity of my heart.” Upon the gentleman’s modest attempt to give an account of his own conduct, he 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, indeed in the great integrity of my hart.

Though of considerable abilities and uncommon learning, he published but very little. The first thing was a Latin dialogue, composed jointly by himself and some of his friends, between a preacher and a thief condemned to the gallows; and is entitled, 1. “Fur Prædestinatus sive, dialogismus inter quendam Ordinis proedicantium Calvinistam etFurem ad laqueum damnatum habitus,” &c. 1651, 12mo. It was levelled at the then-prevailing doctrine of predestination. An edition was published in 18 13; and a translation in the following year, by the rev. Robert Boucher Nickolls, dean of Middleham, with an application to the case of R. Kendall executed at Northampton Aug. 13, 1813. 2. “Modern Politics, taken from Machiavel, Borgia, and other modern authors, by an eye-witness,” 3652, 12mo. 3. “Three Sermons,” afterwards re-printed together in 1694, 8vo. 4. He published bishop Andrews’s “Defence of the vulgar Translation of the Bible,” with a preface of his own. 5. He drew up some offices for Jan. | 3O, and May 29. 6. “Nineteen familiar Letters of his to Mr. (afterwards sir Henry) North, of Mildenhall, bart. both before, but principally after, his deprivation, for refusing to take the oaths to king William III. and his retirement to the place of his nativity in Suffolk, found among the papers of the said sir Henry North, never before published,” were printed in 1757, 8vo. In this small collection of the archbishop’s “Familiar Letters,” none of which were probably ever designed to be made public, his talents for epistolary writing appear to great advantage. He left behind him a multitude of’ papers and coUections in ms. which upon his decease came into his nephew’s hands; after whose death they were purchased by bishop Tanner for eighty guineas, who gave them, with the rest of his manuscripts, to the Bodleian library. From these the Rev. John Gutch, of Oxford, published in 1781, 2 vols. 8vo, various “Miscellaneous Tracts relating to the History and Antiquities of England and Ireland,” &c. 1


Biog. Brit. Hen. Dict. —Burnet’s Own Times. Birch’s TiMotson. Cole’s ms Athens in Brit. Mus. Wilford’s Memorials, p. 342. Wartou’s Miltou. familiar Letters, 1757, Bvg. Outch’a “Collectanea Curiosa.