English School 16th, Century
Portrait of Richard Bancroft, DD, MA, BA Archbishop of Canterbury 1544 - 1610
Richard Bancroft, DD, MA, Archbishop of Canterbury
oil on panel
50.80 x 30.48 cm. (20 x 12 in.)


The Seaman Family, Norfolk


Bancroft, Richard (bap. 1544, d. 1610), archbishop of Canterbury, was baptized at Prescot, Farnworth, Lancashire, on 12 September 1544. He was the second son of John Bancroft, gentleman, and his wife, Mary, daughter of James Curwen and niece of Hugh Curwen (c.1500–1568), archbishop of Dublin (1555–67) and bishop of Oxford (1567–8).

Education and early career

Bancroft was educated locally at the grammar school in Farnworth. He was older than was usual for his generation when admitted to Cambridge, where he was elected scholar at Christ's College, graduating BA in 1567. Although his reputation was said to be higher on the sports field in boxing, wrestling, and quarterstaff, he was nevertheless chosen to greet Elizabeth during her first visit to Cambridge in 1564. He delivered an overweening encomium, lauding her shining example and praising her as a judge against the raging bulls of the pope.

Financial uncertainty may have delayed Bancroft's initial entry to university. In his final undergraduate year Archbishop Curwen granted him the prebendal stall of Malhidert in St Patrick's, Dublin. As he was not yet ordained this would assist him financially. With it came a royal licence to be absent from the university for six months. It is also possible that education in a newly reformed university may not have been an altogether appealing option for someone from a traditionalist background in the north-west. A fellow Lancastrian student, Laurence Chaderton, some eight years senior to Bancroft, came from a financially more secure background and yet did not enter Christ's until he was almost thirty.

For a time Bancroft may have been a close member of Chaderton's wide-flung network of patronage and acquaintance. The two remained lifelong, if unlikely, friends even when Bancroft removed to Jesus College as a tutor (he was never a fellow there). Later Bancroft regarded men like John Rainolds, William Whitaker, and Chaderton as respectable moderates, and in his Daungerous Positions (1593) he deliberately omitted any mention of Chaderton's leading role in the conference movement. He retained broad sympathies for the moderate puritan position and with them opposed the Elizabethan university statutes of 1572.

Bancroft proceeded MA from Jesus in 1572, and two years later, at the age of thirty, he was ordained priest in the diocese of Ely by Bishop Richard Cox. Cox, who had supported the university statutes of 1572, was also visitor of Jesus. He made Bancroft one of his chaplains, in which post he probably served until Cox died in 1581. He later offered him a prebend at Ely (21 December 1575) and collated him to the rectory of Teversham, near Cambridge (24 March 1576). Later that year he was licensed as one of the twelve preachers in the university. ‘By the appointment of Archbishop [Edmund] Grindal, he did once visite the Diocese of Peterborough’, in the wake of the ‘disorders’ involving preachers in Northamptonshire in 1576 (CUL, Mm.1.47, fol. 332). This would appear to be the first time that he had acted as the bishop's proxy in matters of discipline. In 1580 or 1581 Bancroft entered the service of the lord chancellor, Sir Christopher Hatton, as a chaplain, ‘for the most part in her Majesties Court, & was in good Reputation with him, & often employed in sundry maters of great Importance, for her Highnes service’ (ibid.).

It was as one of the university select preachers, and not as an episcopal visitor, that Bancroft was sent to preach at the Bury St Edmunds assize in July 1583. Bury had recently become troubled by the sermons of Robert Browne, a kinsman of Lord Burghley, who had been released from his imprisonment for unauthorized preaching in Cambridge and had moved his centre of operations to the neighbouring diocese of Norwich. The choice of Bancroft as assize preacher was deliberate. Browne had earlier appeared before him, as the bishop's officer, to be reminded of the need for an episcopal licence when he had delivered his Cambridge homilies. Bancroft's new position in Hatton's household meant that he would be able to report back fully to the government on the presbyterian claims of the sectaries.

As Archbishop John Whitgift attested in 1597, it was while Bancroft was in Bury that:

he detected to the Judges, the writings of a Poesie, about Her Majesties Armes, taken out of the Apocalyps, but apply'd to her Highness most falsely & seditiously. It had been sett up a quarter of a year, in a most publick place, without controulment. (CUL, Mm.1.47, fol. 332)

The libel, pinned to the royal achievement in one of the city churches, compared the queen, England's Deborah, to ‘that woman Jezebel’, of Revelation 2:20. Its discovery led to the arrest and subsequent death of two Brownists, John Copping and Elias Thacker, who had been distributing A Treatise of Reformation without Tarrying for Anie (1582) by Browne and books by Robert Harrison. Chief Justice Sir Edmund Anderson gave Bancroft a copy of Harrison's Three Formes of Catechismes (1583) by way of an honorarium. Bancroft dated the gift to the day of the death of Archbishop Grindal (6 July 1583).

Spokesman for conformity

John Whitgift, who succeeded Grindal at Canterbury, immediately demanded clerical subscription to three articles, asserting that the queen had supreme authority in matters ecclesiastical, that the Thirty-Nine Articles of 1563 were agreeable to the word of God and that the Book of Common Prayer contained nothing contrary to scripture. He met forceful opposition in both parliament and the privy council, where Lord Burghley made explicit his concern that ‘the Inquisitors of Spain use not so many questions to comprehend and to trap their preyes’, concluding that ‘this kind of proceeding is too much savouring of the Romish Inquisition’ (J. Strype, The Life and Acts of … John Whitgift, 1718, new edn, 3 vols., 1822, 3.104–7).

Whitgift had, however, a further string to his bow. John Aylmer, bishop of London, who had been de facto primate during the years of Grindal's suspension, had done much to reinvigorate the ecclesiastical commission, which now operated as an independent ‘court of high commission’. As such, part of its function was to pursue and discipline clerical nonconformists. Although both Whitgift and Aylmer remained at the head of its affairs, Bancroft rapidly became the more powerful figure behind the scenes. The high commission worked methodically to extirpate presbyterianism, to stifle subversive publications, and to suspend—although only selectively, in view of the privy council's continued propensity to challenge its decisions whenever its victims had friends at court—those leading sectaries who refused to subscribe to Whitgift's articles.

Bancroft was increasingly involved in developing an anti-puritan rhetoric, and by the time that he was admitted DTh at Cambridge in April 1585 he had produced a series of investigative accounts of puritanism in which he wrote warmly in the defence of episcopacy and denounced the practices of gathered congregations. He condemned the heresies in Robert Browne's books, wrote of the ‘Opinions and Dealings of the Precisians’, and sought to exploit the inner weaknesses and rivalries of the fissiparous movement. Against William Turner he wrote his ‘Discourse upon the bill and book exhibited in parliament by the puritans for a further reformation of the church principles’ (TNA: PRO, SP 12/199/1).

Not that all Bancroft's energies were directed against the godly at home. In 1584 he joined Archbishop Adam Loftus of Dublin in a remonstrance to prevent Sir John Perrot alienating the endowment and church site of St Patrick's, Dublin, in order to found a university college. Loftus, who had succeeded Bancroft's great-uncle as archbishop in 1567, had been dean of St Patrick's from 1565 and may therefore have known him from that foundation. Perrot's plan was essentially based on the models of many Oxford and Cambridge colleges; Bancroft's second college, Jesus, had been reformed out of the former monastic foundation of St Radegund. The appeal was upheld and the plan for a college or university in Dublin was revised.

Not until 10 February 1586 did Bancroft receive his first major appointment, becoming treasurer of St Paul's Cathedral by royal prerogative. The same year Sir Christopher Hatton presented him to the rectory of Cottingham, Northamptonshire. Bancroft had earlier successfully sought the parsonage of St Andrew's, Holborn, in August 1584 through Hatton's intercession with Burghley. Accordingly he is gazetted as non-resident and double-beneficed in a contemporary list drafted for the lord mayor and aldermen by members of the London clerical conference. This document sought the support of the lay authorities in petitioning the queen to ‘have consideration of the state of the Ministry of London, for speedy Reformation of it’ (Peel, 2.96, 180). Following the death of Cox, Bancroft was also appointed to the commission of visitation for the diocese of Ely, which administered the see throughout its lengthy vacancy (1581–1600). On 19 July 1587 he was installed as a canon of Westminster.

Pulpiteer and polemicist

On 23 June 1586 Star Chamber enacted an ordinance to restrain the printing of seditious propaganda: no volume might be printed without a licence from either the archbishop of Canterbury or the bishop of London. This established a form of censorship which went far beyond that imposed upon the Stationers' Company and was to remain in place until 1640–41. Its immediate effect was to foment a series of underground publications and from the summer of 1588 there appeared a series of lampoons and tracts, written by ‘Martin Marprelate’, whose identity has never been established. It was Bancroft who uncovered the location of the printing press, at Newtown near Manchester, and silenced it.

In his Paul's Cross sermon of 9 February 1589 Bancroft responded to many of the charges of Martin Marprelate. He claimed that episcopacy itself had existed as a form of ecclesiastical government since apostolic times. He further attacked the ‘Arians, Donatists, Papists, Libertines, Anabaptists, the Familie of Love and sundrie other’ heresies (R. Bancroft, A Sermon Preached at Paules Crosse, 1589, 3). Bancroft's agenda was threefold. The sermon was clearly directed at the parliamentary session that had begun the previous week, but at the same time it sought to underscore the essentially anti-establishment nature of the godly reform programme. For the first time it also took the battle of scholarship into Scotland. The general assembly of the kirk had agreed on 10 May 1586 that ‘the name of a Bishop hath a speciall charge in the function annexed to it by the word’ but that this was no different from an ‘ordinary Pastor’. It further ruled that only the general assembly could admit any pastor to be bishop or minister as granted by the king. The Pauline style ofepiskopos was to be ‘appointed to a speciall floke where he shall keepe his residence & serve the cure as another Minister’ (BL, Sloane MS 271, fol. 73r). Bancroft's defence of episcopacy against this argument raised fundamental questions about church order and the essentials of faith and in conformist circles became a benchmark for a discussion of church polity for half a century, until the abolition of bishops in 1643.

Bancroft's homily had another intended target: those who exalted the word of God to the point that it became the sole authority that, by preaching and prophesyings, threatened the balance within a church that set greater store by the use of sacraments. He denounced those false prophets who

would have the people to be alwaies seeking and searching: and these men (as well themselves as their followers) can never finde wherupon to rest. Now they are carried hither, now thither. They are alwaies learning (as the apostle saith) but do never attaine to the truth. (Bancroft, A Sermon Preached at Paules Crosse, 38)

For Bancroft, the ploughboy in the field, whom Erasmus hoped would have the scripture to hand, had become ‘the pratling old woman, the doting old man, the brabling sophister’. All of them assume that they have obtained the truth when in fact ‘they teare it in peeces, and take upon them to teach it before they have learned it’ (ibid., 41).

With regard to Scottish affairs Bancroft greatly miscalculated and put his own future career in jeopardy. He had the temerity to criticize John Knox and falsely (albeit understandably) attributed to James VI a declaration about the church in Scotland which had in fact been drafted by Patrick Adamson, archbishop of St Andrews. A furious Burghley, who was keen to maintain discreet relations with the Scottish king, summoned Bancroft to account for himself and refused him leave to read his own carefully prepared defence that he had taken the precaution to bring with him. Burghley ordered him back to Hatton's residence in Ely Place to write a submission to the king. When, however, James himself pressed for a full public apology Burghley firmly demurred. North of the border the issue remained a live one; John Davidson chided Bancroft as late as September 1590 in D. Bancrofts Rashness in Rayling.

In 1592, after the death of Sir Christopher Hatton, Bancroft became one of Whitgift's household chaplains at Lambeth. The following year he ‘did sett out two Books in defence of the State of the Church, & against the pretended Holy Discipline: which were liked and greatly commended, by the learnedest Men in the Realm’ (CUL, Mm. 1.47, fol. 333). The first, A Survay of the Pretended Holy Discipline, was an extended form of remarks he had passed in his sermon of 1589. In it he traced the origins of the reform movement to Geneva under Calvin and its propagation in England to the work of Beza and the admonition of 1572. The work espoused a jure divino case for episcopacy, largely drawn from two recently published tracts: Hadrian Saravia's influential Diverse Degrees of the Ministers of the Gospel (1590) and Matthew Sutcliffe's Treatise of Ecclesiastical Discipline (1591). Bancroft undertook to explain why the Church of England retained hierarchical office as a sign of the true church and rejected the pattern of reformation demanded by the godly. He emphasized that episcopacy was both scriptural and historical, whereas ‘the institution of this pretended Government cannot be shewed out of the Old Testament: and then by their own confessions … it may not be urged out of the New’ (R. Bancroft, A Survay, 1593, 69). Such claims advanced the bishops well beyond the status of ecclesiastical civil servants that had been Burghley's and the earl of Leicester's preferred model for the early Elizabethan episcopate.

Bancroft further advanced the cause of episcopal government and attacked puritanism in his next publication, Daungerous Positions and Proceedings, Published and Practiced within this Iland of Brytaine, under the Pretence of Reformation, and for the Presbiterial Discipline (1593), a work that was reprinted in 1640 as a clarion call against the Scottish sympathizers in the country. ‘The devilish and traitorous practices of the seminary priests and jesuits’ were as bad as ‘the lewd and obstinate course held by our pretended reformers, the consistorian puritans’, since both of them were ‘labouring with all their might by railing, libelling and lying to steal away the people's hearts from their governors, to bring them to a dislike of the present state of our church’ (R. Bancroft, Daungerous Positions, 2–3). By stressing the links between the conference movement and subversives, like William Hacket and Henry Coppinger, Bancroft wrote a scaremonger's handbook to political resistance and ensured that conformity, whether of puritans or of papists, would be judged in the light of allegiance to the crown. An act of parliament of 1593 (35 Eliz. I c. i) threatened sectaries with imprisonment for staying away from divine service and made conventicles unlawful. By then puritanism had already been driven underground; the Dedham conference had met for the last time in June 1589, Thomas Cartwright was imprisoned, and Henry Barrowe, John Greenwood, and John Penry had been put to death (under the act of 1581 that forbade seditious writings), although not before Penry's damaging tract, A briefe discovery of the untruthes and slanders (against the true government of the church of Christ) contained in a sermon preached 8. of Februarie 1588 by D. Bancroft, had appeared anonymously in Edinburgh.

Bishop of London

As a theologian and church leader Whitgift was a thoroughgoing Calvinist. For all his outbursts he never regarded the likes of Cartwright and fellow members of the conference movement as more than disaffected brethren who needed to be brought to their senses. The logic of Bancroft's approach, however, recast not only exasperated radicals, who were moving towards semi-separatism, but also ‘moderate puritans’ as politically subversive. This effectively identified authority within the church with authority in the state.

Despite this difference in attitude Whitgift now canvassed Bancroft's elevation to the bishopric of London, which John Aylmer was willing to resign in his favour if his own translation to Worcester could be effected. The plan came to nothing, apparently because Bancroft would not agree to the pension from episcopal revenues that was Aylmer's price for his resignation. On his deathbed in 1594 Aylmer is said to have regretted that he had not written to Elizabeth to commend Bancroft as his successor.

It is unlikely that such a representation would have persuaded Elizabeth against more powerful patrons since Burghley, at this stage, preferred William Day, dean of Windsor, while the earl of Essex backed Richard Fletcher, bishop of Worcester. Whitgift, no doubt aware that Bancroft had little chance of promotion, in December 1595 added his voice to that of Essex and Bishop Fletcher was duly translated. Fletcher's unexpected death on 15 June 1596, coming soon after Day's appointment to Winchester, gave Whitgift a second chance. He wrote candidly that in the past fifteen or sixteen years (in other words since Bancroft himself had entered centre-stage politics in the household of the lord chancellor):

17: or 18: of his Juniors (few or none of them being of his experience) have been preferred, eleven to Deaneries, & the rest to Bishopricks. Of which number, some have been formerly inclin'd to Faction, & the most as neuters have expected the Issue, that so they might, as things should fall out, run with the time. (Strype, Whitgift, 2.386–8)

This remarkable assessment, which disparages many, strongly argues for Whitgift's support of Bancroft; when he thanked Robert Cecil for making the appointment possible, he claimed that Secretary Cecil would ‘finde him a honest, true and faythfull man’ (Hatfield House, MS 49, fol. 108). At the age of fifty-three Bancroft was elected on 21 April 1597, consecrated on 8 May, and enthroned on 5 June.

As a new diocesan bishop, Bancroft set out at once to implement locally the reforms that he and Whitgift had devised for the church at large. In the first instance he was determined to ensure the conformity of London ministers. Although there are no surviving subscription rolls for London in the period 1597–1604, Bancroft felt confident enough to assure Cecil on 2 April 1601 after four years in post, that ‘all within my diocese have conformed themselves save Mr Egerton’ (Salisbury MSS, 11.154). This somewhat pointed remark was prompted by antagonism as Stephen Egerton of Blackfriars owed the continuation of his ministry to Cecil's protection at the behest of William Fitzwilliam, a kinsman of Lady Burghley.

Bancroft's primary visitation articles of 1598, which were later reissued with minor amendments for the visitations of both 1601 and 1604, constitute a detailed and careful inquiry into the ministry. They became the model for many such episcopal articles in the Jacobean and Caroline church, being used, for instance, by Richard Neile at Coventry and Lichfield (1610), John Howson (Oxford, 1619–28), and Richard Corbet (1629). In them Bancroft ordered a dozen ministers in the diocese to bring confirmation candidates forward, either to himself or to his suffragan, John Sterne, bishop of Colchester. Here he was following Whitgift's directive of 1591 to ensure that ‘bishoppings’ were held regularly and that those coming forward for confirmation were suitably prepared in the faith. Despite Bancroft's claim at the Hampton Court conference that his chaplains ensured this and so prevented indiscriminate confirmation, Nicholas Ferrar remembered being confirmed twice by Bancroft during his visitation of 1598. Bishop Aylmer had ensured that London clergy had some vocational training and Bancroft retained this emphasis; the visitation call book for 1598 records that more than 100 clergy were interviewed by commissaries for their suitability as licensed preachers. Among his chaplains acting as a commissary for the visitation was Samuel Harsnett, whom he later preferred as archdeacon of Essex (1602) and bishop of Chichester (1609) and who served as one of his executors.

The Catholic threat

If Bancroft's primary visitation gave him an opportunity to regulate the preaching ministry of the established church he also became involved in monitoring the activities of Romish priests resident in England. Cardinal Cajetan's appointment of George Blackwell to the office of archpriest with supreme authority over the English mission (7 March 1598) highlighted the divisions in the Catholic parties in the country. Bancroft's policy was to foment rivalry between secular priests in England and Jesuits abroad. Contemporaries believed that he was personally, and even solely, responsible for ensuring that ‘the appellant priests have such liberty’ (Anthony Rivers to Robert Persons, 3 March 1602, in H. Foley, Records of the English Province of the Society of Jesus, 7 vols., 1877–83, 1.22). All the main appellant leaders wrote to Bancroft at some time or other and he, with the cognizance of Cecil, whom he kept informed at every stage, offered them limited licences to ensure a degree of local control within the Catholic community. He also read widely, on both sides of the controversy.

One secular priest, William Watson, who had come from Rheims to England in June 1586, was living at Fulham Palace by September 1601. It was claimed then that he was, ‘under the Bishop's elbow, by whose appointment he is placed there’ (Dodd, 3.cxlvii). Bancroft assured Cecil on 18 August that he was ‘very tractable to whet his pen against the jesuits’ (Salisbury MSS, 11.350). But he was quick to disown him when Watson fell out with Rome and began to dabble in treason; in July 1603 he claimed he had not seen him since January. Watson had become involved in the so-called Bye plot to kidnap James I and impose toleration of Catholics; he was executed on 29 November that year. In the parliament of 1604 an action was brought against Bancroft alleging that he had committed treason in allowing the printing of appellant books; the bill was suppressed by the crown when Bancroft was being considered for the primacy.

This policy of limited toleration, intended to discredit the Jesuits, had been co-ordinated by Robert Cecil and the privy council. Bancroft was not yet a member of the council and needed an official letter from it to cover his clandestine activities throughout the controversy. Following the revelations of the Bye plot Bancroft may have acted scarcely a moment too soon to ensure that his conduct had the sanction of the crown. When at the Hampton Court conference John Rainolds of Corpus Christi College, Oxford, claimed that there were too many popish books in circulation, James VI and I defended Bancroft as having acted with official warrant. In fact, he was being employed on other government business too. For instance he was part of a diplomatic mission to Emden with Dr Christopher Perkins and Dr Richard Swale to resolve a dispute with Denmark and is said to have led pikemen against the London citizenry raised by the earl of Essex. Whitgift's failing health also thrust Bancroft centre stage in the church. As Thomas Fuller later averred, ‘he was in effect Archbishop whilst Bishop’ (Fuller, Worthies, 122).

The Hampton Court conference

Whitgift was alarmed by the modest demands made in the millenary petition presented to the new king in his journey south for ‘a uniformity of doctrine’ and for ‘no popish opinion to be any more taught and defended’. On 12 May 1603, a week after the new king had entered London, he wrote to the bishops requiring them to compile lists of all their clergy and preachers, with details of their academic qualifications, their licences (if any), and their place of residence. Detailed responses were not forthcoming, and at the end of the summer Whitgift was still trying to obtain answers. Those who saw the new reign as an opportunity for securing a new settlement of religion were more organized in achieving results from their own county-wide surveys. As a result the king issued a royal proclamation on 24 October 1603 (CPR, James I, 1/3) ‘concerning such as seditiously seek reformation in church matters’, intending to hold a public disputation on 1 November. The plague, however, was raging in London and when the conference met it was at Hampton Court, in sessions on 14, 16, and 18 January 1604.

Bancroft was one of nine bishops who, with Whitgift and James Montagu, dean of the Chapel Royal, represented the church hierarchy. The distinctly moderate puritan disputants were led by John Rainolds, who enjoyed good relations with Whitgift, and included Laurence Chaderton, a long-standing acquaintance of Bancroft. Among the several accounts of the proceedings, that of William Barlow, dean of Chester, is the lengthiest and as the officially commissioned version casts the bishops' contribution in the most favourable light, yet the Bancroft he praises with Thomas Bilson, bishop of Winchester, for his ‘pains and dexteritie’ (Cardwell, 168), emerges not just as a dominant but also as an impatient, hardline, and sometimes overbearing participant. While Whitgift left the detail of much of the debate to both Bancroft and Bilson, Bancroft was more combative than either. On the first day, in response to the king's opening oration discussing the alleged shortcomings of the church, it was Bancroft who asserted the apostolic institution of confirmation. Whitgift defended public absolution, but Bancroft defended private absolution too. Whitgift and the bishop of Worcester thought that the founding fathers of the English church had intended to suppress baptism by the laity, but had been compelled by circumstances to proceed obliquely; Bancroft asserted that there was no ambiguity, rather, they had intended to permit it as a necessity, since ‘if [a child] die baptised, there is evident assurance that it is saved’ (ibid., 175). When on the second day Bancroft intervened in Rainolds's exposition of the puritan case, advancing authorities to argue that those who spoke against bishops and the established liturgy should not be heard, the king excused his ‘passion’ but ‘misliked his sudden interruption of D[r] Reinolds’ (ibid., 180). Uncowed, Bancroft repeated this tactic later in the day. He defended himself vigorously against an accusation he sensed (probably correctly) was aimed at him of insufficiency in taking action against the publication of popish books, and moved three petitions indicative of his views on pastoral priorities: that attention should be given to the establishment of a praying ministry; that the reading of homilies should be promoted; that pulpits should not ‘be made pasquils’ (ibid., 192) for the airing of discontent. On the third day James, having apparently considered the case for change to the articles and prayer book and found it wanting, seems to have spoken in measured terms for the maintenance of the status quo. It was Bancroft who characteristically responded with a call for no concessions to nonconformists and for a strict time-limit on subscription. It was also Bancroft who ‘ended all with a thanksgiving to God’ (ibid., 212) and a prayer for the royal family.

On 31 January the king issued a writ of summons to the southern convocation to meet at St Paul's Cathedral on 20 March. In the interim Archbishop Whitgift died, on 29 February, and ten days later James issued a second writ, to Bancroft, as dean of the province of Canterbury, appointing him to preside in the convocation of clergy. When it met, convocation proceeded to adopt 141 constitutions and canons that Bancroft had drawn from the articles, injunctions, and synodical acts passed in the reigns of Edward VI and Elizabeth. Convocation approved them in April 1604 and James hoped to impose them unilaterally by letters patent on the province of York as well, but objections meant that they were not ratified by the northern province until 1606. Parliamentary sanction was technically supplied through citation of the Act for the Submission of the Clergy of 1534 (25 Henry VIII, c. 19) but parliament, meeting from 19 March, had in fact strenuously resisted them, even passing a resolution that no canon passed in the last decade could have any authority to impeach or hurt anyone's liberty. The canons enshrined, in canon 36, Whitgift's three articles of 1583. No fewer than 73 and no more than 83 ministers lost their benefices for their refusal to subscribe, of whom 7 later conformed and were reinstated.

Archbishop of Canterbury

The appointment of Bancroft as successor to Whitgift was not without controversy. He was obviously a leading candidate, recognized as an astute bureaucrat and a talented polemicist, but the archbishop of York, Matthew Hutton, was thought by many to have the edge. In turn Hutton himself sought to advance either Bilson of Winchester or the great preaching prelate in the north, Tobie Matthew of Durham. Like Bancroft, both the bishop of Durham and Archbishop Hutton had entertained James VI and I on his arrival in England at the outset of his reign and had been among the first to preach before the new king. The rivalry of such candidates may explain why the congé d'élire for Bancroft's appointment was not granted until 6 October 1604. He was formally nominated on 9 October, elected on 17 November, and confirmed on 10 December by the bishops of Durham, Rochester, St David's, Chester, Chichester, and Ely.

Bancroft at once took up the king's business of ensuring conformity, and during the following six years some eighty ministers were deprived. In a circular to the bishops of 22 December 1604 he required them to remove those who refused to subscribe or would not accept ceremonial conformity. During the summer of 1605 Bancroft carried out a metropolitical visitation of ten dioceses where he set out to improve standards of preaching among the clergy and address other ‘abuses’ raised in parliament's criticism of the ministry. By so doing he may have addressed himself to issues facing the whole province at the cost of neglecting his own diocese; there is no evidence that he ever visited the diocese of Canterbury and in both 1607 and 1608 he sent Barlow, now bishop of Rochester, in his stead.

Bancroft was determined to address standards of preaching, non-residency, and catechizing among the clergy. In the letter of 28 May 1605 to his commissary in Bath and Wells which accompanied his articles of visitation he highlighted several of the canons of 1604. He specified canons 43, 44, 45, 46, 47, 59, and 74, ‘all of them concerninge the increase of the preachinge of the word of God, the catechisinge and instructinge of the younger sort in the principles and grounds of Christian religion’, as a way of countering charges of non-residency and scandal of an inattentive ministry, ‘the defects wherof you knowe hath bynn often and so violentlie complayned of in parliament’ (Fincham, Visitation Articles, 4, 5). Surprisingly, they made no requirements for confirmation. They did, however, provide (art. 33) ‘for halfe an houre or more’ for Sunday catechizing, and concerned themselves with the use of the sign of the cross at baptism (art. 21), and the reporting of recusancy (art. 37; (ibid., 9)). The articles necessarily embodied a tougher drive towards conformity and as a consequence a number of ministers lost their livings. However, it is not always possible to trace which presentments had arisen from which visitation, so that the overall effect of the metropolitical visitation should perhaps not be overemphasized. The articles of visitation themselves were not wholly original: Bancroft drew widely on those already used elsewhere. None the less, his became a model for articles widely used throughout the Church of England until the abolition of the hierarchy, including those of his successor, Abbot, and they were significantly more thoroughgoing than those of Whitgift's twenty-two articles.

Fighting on two fronts

As bishop of London, with Whitgift's support Bancroft had followed a policy of divide and rule when dealing with recusants. But as primate he faced something of a resurgence in English Catholicism which required in response more than subtle support for seculars against the Jesuits. There had been rumours at James's accession that he would grant full toleration to recusants; Anne of Denmark's status as a Catholic convert, though not widely known, may have informed such expectations. If the Gunpowder Plot of November 1605 largely put paid to these hopes, James was still prepared to offer tolerance if not toleration, allowing that Catholics who remained quiet and secluded would not be harried. He explained to a furious House of Commons that not all those who professed the ‘Romish religion’ were disloyal subjects.

Although Bancroft too was concerned to mitigate violence and to uphold religion and the church without recourse to extreme measures, he was nevertheless implacable in his opposition to the papists. A number of high-profile defections to Rome, following the controversy over the oath of allegiance of 1606, led Bancroft to attack Catholics before the privy council in the years between 1607 and his death. When more than ten dozen suspected recusants failed to answer charges at the metropolitical visitation of Winchester diocese in 1607, they were summarily excommunicated. Having been elected in 1608 the first clerical chancellor of Oxford University since Mary's reign, Bancroft dismissed the appeal against suspension made by Humphrey Leech, a canon of Christ Church who had preached suspect sermons and denounced Calvin. Leech defected to Rome and Bancroft warned the university against publicly disputing matters contrary to the teachings of the church. In 1609 he ordered that every parish in the land should have a copy of Bishop John Jewel'sApologie, the classic defence of the Church of England as established under Elizabeth.

Meanwhile Bancroft was tangentially involved in King James's attempts to settle the Church of Scotland. He offered open hospitality to Andrew Melville, the head of Aberdeen University, and seven presbyterian colleagues when they were summoned to London by the king in the autumn of 1606, although this was refused. With the prince of Wales, fellow clergy, and leading laymen, Bancroft attended the meeting between James and the Scottish commissioners at Hampton Court. After the gathering had been treated to four sermons on order and obedience, on 6 October Bancroft tried privately to get the Scots to sign an agreed statement but to no avail. The latter remained in London under house arrest, and when in November Andrew Melville was hauled before the privy council for criticizing the St Michael's day service he had witnessed, his frustration led to an outburst in which he seized the sleeve of Bancroft's cassock, calling his vestments ‘Romish ragis, and a pairt of the beastis mark’ (A. R. MacDonald, The Jacobean Kirk, 1567–1625, 1998, 125).

There were later attempts to reconcile the Scots to episcopacy, most notably when George Downham, one of Bancroft's eight household chaplains, preached at James Montagu's consecration in April 1608. This sermon, and its defence in 1611, demonstrate how Bancroft used his authority over his household chaplains to preach conformity at the very heart of the system, at the consecration of the successors of the apostles. When published it caused a furore and one of the numerous treatises attacking it called upon the privy council ‘not to depend upon the mouthes of Bishops and their Chaplains (who in this case are rather to be mistrusted of Godly wise men, as Achabs 400 prophets were of Jehosophat)’ (Informations, or, A Protestation, and a Treatise from Scotland, 1608, sig. 2). The printing of Downham's sermon was clearly part of a carefully co-ordinated campaign intended to convince the Scots of the need for episcopacy so that although Bancroft, as primate of all England, could exercise no jurisdiction over the Scots, he could still provide his king with a theological armoury. When in 1610 three bishops were sent from Scotland to be consecrated in England, it was agreed that they should receive orders at the hands of the bishop of London and other bishops and not attend at Lambeth, lest there be any confusion over Bancroft's authority. Their orders were nevertheless the hard-won fruits of his exertions.

At the end of his life Bancroft was still fighting the twin menaces of public Catholicism and an inadequate ministry. On 21 July 1610 the Spanish ambassador, Alonso de Velasco, reported to Philip III the outcome of a recent heated meeting of the privy council at which the archbishop had denounced the earls of Northampton, Suffolk, and Worcester as Catholics, claiming that they frequently absented themselves from communion. However, Robert Cecil, earl of Salisbury, ensured that the king took no action against Suffolk and Worcester and so thwarted the archbishop. The two earls had both had very public roles at the creation of the prince of Wales on 4 June 1610, and Bancroft's blistering attack may have been partly designed to point up the danger of allowing Catholics to stand so close to the crown. He will also have known how Salisbury relied on Lady Suffolk as his go-between with successive Spanish ambassadors.

At the end of July 1610, following the year's first parliamentary session, Bancroft sent instructions to the dioceses in the king's name. The session had not been an easy one; a sermon by Bishop Samuel Harsnett, another of Bancroft's former chaplains, had aroused controversy, and Bancroft's patience had snapped over a bill on pluralities. The instructions show that he was still keen to remove the twin evils of non-residency and pluralism, although he had previously failed to obtain a parliamentary statute to restore impropriated tithes to vicars and curates as a way of funding parish clergy. They also show that he was concerned with standards of ecclesiastical administration, charging the bishops:

to examine very narrowly the proceedinges of your chauncellors, commissaries, archdeacons and officials; for whilest we repose soe much truste in them as we doe, and they intend little (I meane espicially chauncellors, commissaries and officialls) but theire owne profitt, many true complaynts and mischiefes doe indeede thereof ensue. (Fincham, Visitation Articles, 1.95)

Bancroft may have placed too much blind trust in his bishops in this regard. Certainly the promiscuous ordinations by Bishop Sterne of Colchester had attracted criticism.

At the same time, ecclesiastical power was under attack from another quarter. In the first decade of the century common lawyers had increasingly urged that in matters ecclesiastical the high commission was subject to parliament (which had passed the statute of 1559 authorizing the commission), and that, therefore, parliament's authority in religious matters outweighed the king's. Furthermore, since Cowdrey's case in 1591 Bancroft had been under personal attack, above all from Edward Coke, who was successively solicitor-general (1592), attorney-general (1593), and chief justice of common pleas. In this context, following the Hampton Court conference disillusioned puritans had again resorted to the law to contest the authority of the high commission. When facing prosecution in the church courts, they would turn to common law courts for writs of prohibition. Since the commission compelled self-incrimination, by putting defendants on oath in order to interrogate them about their religious affiliations, Coke was able to argue that the oath taken ex officiotempted men to perjury and placed their souls at risk. He averred that only the common law or statute should ever require such extreme measures. Although by October 1605 Bancroft presented the king with a list of complaints (the Articuli cleri) in which he attacked the judges, the latter continued to issue writs of prohibition, while a series of ineffectual conferences was held over the next four years. In November 1608 James I sought to take the matter into his own hands, but he was attacked by Coke for meddling in matters that took lawyers years to learn. Although the king demanded that all cases in matters ecclesiastical be reported to him, as the fount of all justice, the judges disregarded the instruction, thereby weakening the sovereign's authority in the church, a central pillar of Whitgift's and Bancroft's drive for conformity. Bancroft witnessed one final indignity when his friend, the civilian John Cowell, was brought before the House of Commons at Coke's behest, and worsted.

Death and will

Bancroft died at Lambeth Palace on 2 November 1610. As he had specified in his second will, dated 28 October, he was interred two days later without great ceremony in the chancel of the parish church of Lambeth. A single slab, inscribed with his name, marks the spot. There is no memorial sculpture. He provided that within a month of his death a memorial sermon should be preached in the church before his household, requesting it be given by either George Abbot, Samuel Harsnett, or by one of his eight household chaplains. His first will was popularly supposed to have left his entire estate to the church but, according to Thomas Fuller, he latterly thought better of it. As the first post-Reformation archbishop routinely to use a carriage, he bequeathed his best coach and four Dutch geldings to his successor, while his second coach and the team of English geldings went to his nephew Dr Newman. His will distributed £60 to the poor of Lambeth and Croydon, generously provided for his household staff, and further honoured his nephews and nieces with items of silver and his musical instruments. As well as giving four bishops (Barlow, Montagu, Neile, and Harsnett) each ‘a round hoope ring of gold of a marke in weight with this inscription Sic sanctorum communio, two hands being joyned together within the round at the beginning of the inscription’ (TNA: PRO, SP 14/57/115), he gave lesser gold rings to a handful of friends, including Sir Christopher Hatton and Sir George Paule. He gave his library in perpetuity to the archbishops of Canterbury, enjoining the king ‘and his most Royal Successors, when they receave the homage of any Archbishop of Canterbury, first to procure him to enter Bonde to leave all the said Books to his Successors’ (ibid.). This substantial donation formed the basis of the replacement library set up after Matthew Parker had alienated the earlier collections. It included William Camden's manuscripts, which had come to Bancroft as a result of a long-held friendship between the two men. At the interregnum parliament ordered that the library should be transferred to the University of Cambridge and only the persistence of Archbishop Gilbert Sheldon after the Restoration ensured that it was returned to Lambeth.

His collection of some 6065 volumes shows Bancroft to have been a lover of the classics—he owned copies of works by Seneca and Virgil, Aristotle, Homer, Horace, Martial, Ovid, Plato, Pliny, Plutarch, and Petronius among 531 volumes of literae humaniores. He also bequeathed 102 bibles, 294 volumes of patristic theology, and 659 volumes of biblical commentary, as well as 755 works of Catholic theology and of controversy. Patrick Young, who became keeper of the royal library in 1609 but had been acting keeper since 1597, complained a month after the archbishop's death that Bancroft had at least 500 books from the royal collection, many of which have remained at Lambeth since. This suggests that Bancroft, like many serious bibliophiles, was often not too scrupulous about matters of ownership. He could also be generous, and shortly before his death was considering contributing books to the young prince of Wales's library (BL, Add. MS 6094, fol. 174r).

Bancroft appointed both Harsnett and Abbot, men from very different wings of the church, to be the overseers of this will. He left the first a silver-gilt basin and ewer for his pains, and the latter, ‘if it should not please God and his Majesty, that he may suceede me in the Archbishoprike’, 100 marks to bestow as plate (TNA: PRO, SP 14/57/115). No trace of Abbot's funeral eulogy has been found, but his succession to Canterbury had been assured, even though some contemporaries still imagined that Lancelot Andrewes, Thomas Bilson, or Tobie Matthew might be appointed.

Bancroft's legacy

It has been argued that Bancroft's single-mindedness reconstructed the Church of England after a period of Elizabethan neglect, but such an opinion misjudges the very real work undertaken by his predecessor, Whitgift, from whom he learned, and equally exaggerates the success of his own policies of insistence, whether upon clerical subscription, the imposition of the canons of 1604, or the enforcement of his visitation articles. All three derived from concerns and considerations of the church post-1588 when the Marprelate tracts seemed, alongside the Spanish Armada, to threaten a pincer movement against the Church of England. In a very real sense Bancroft's achievements derived from his faithful service to Whitgift and not from the period of his own occupancy of the chair of St Augustine. His years as a dogged ecclesiastical bloodhound brought the highest promotion, and his nomination of his successor was honoured, but his tenure of the primacy was little more than as a servant of the crown, even if he imbued that service with religious content. The king had made clear at Hampton Court that he could act independently of his bishops, and it may be that Bancroft was one of the few to appreciate the limitations that set him.

At Lambeth, Bancroft surrounded himself with a diverse but highly articulate group of chaplains, all of them of his own preferred academic mind. Several of them preached and wrote on matters close to his heart. Leonard Hutton defended the use of the cross in baptism in 1605; Thomas Rogers defended kneeling at communion in 1608; the same year Downham defended episcopacy. Bancroft astutely used their penmanship to infuse ceremonies that might otherwise have remained unpopular with a sense of God-given decency. At each stage his own persona remains discreetly in the background, but there can be no mistaking his presence among the ghost writers. The earl of Clarendon's opinion that Bancroft ‘had almost rescued’ the church ‘out of the hands of the Calvinian party, and very much subdued the unruly spirit of the Non-conformists’ may have been optimistic, but his contention that he ‘understood the church excellently’ stands better with the evidence (Clarendon, Hist. rebellion (Macray edn), 1.186).

Nicholas W. S. Cranfield  DNB