John Whitgift

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John Whitgift (c. 1530 – 29 February 1604) was the Archbishop of Canterbury from 1583 to his death. Noted for his hospitality, he was somewhat ostentatious in his habits, sometimes visiting Canterbury and other towns attended by a retinue of 800 horsemen. Whitgift's theological views were often controversial.


Making of a High Churchman

He was the eldest son of Henry Whitgift, a merchant, of Great Grimsby, Lincolnshire, where he was born. His date of birth was probably somewhere between 1530 and 1533. His early education was entrusted to his uncle, Robert Whitgift, abbot of the neighbouring monastery of Wellow, by whose advice he was afterwards sent to St Anthony's School, London. In 1549 he matriculated at Queens' College, Cambridge, and in May 1550 he moved to Pembroke Hall, where the martyr John Bradford was his tutor. In May 1555 he became a fellow of Peterhouse.[1]

Francis Bacon

Dr. Whitgift is believed to have taught Francis Bacon at Cambridge University in the 1570s.

Links with Cambridge

Having taken orders in 1560, he became chaplain to Richard Cox, Bishop of Ely, who collated him to the rectory of Teversham, Cambridgeshire. In 1563 he was appointed Lady Margaret's Professor of Divinity at Cambridge, and his lectures gave such satisfaction to the authorities that on 5 July 1566 they considerably augmented his stipend. The following year he was appointed Regius Professor of Divinity, and also became master first of Pembroke Hall and then of Trinity. He had a principal share in compiling the statutes of the university, which passed the great seal on 25 September 1570, and in November following he was chosen as vice-chancellor.

Promotions, Improvements and more

Whitgift's theological views were controversial. An aunt with whom he once lodged wrote later that “though she thought at first she had received a saint into her house, she now perceived he was a devil”. Macaulay's description of Whitgift as "a narrow, mean, tyrannical priest, who gained power by servility and adulation," is rhetorical and exaggerated; but undoubtedly Whitgift's High Church beliefs led him to treat the Puritans intolerantly. In a pulpit controversy with Thomas Cartwright, regarding the constitutions and customs of the Church of England, his oratorical effectiveness proved inferior, but was able to exercise arbitrary authority. Together with other heads of the university, he deprived Cartwright of his professorship, and in September 1571 Whitgift exercised his prerogative as master of Trinity to deprive him of his fellowship also. In June of the same year Whitgift was nominated Dean of Lincoln. In the following year he published An Answere to a Certain Libel entitled an Admonition to the Parliament, which led to further controversy between the two churchmen. On 24 March 1577, Whitgift was appointed Bishop of Worcester, and during the absence of Sir Henry Sidney in Ireland (1577) he acted as vice-president of Wales.

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