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  George Abbot (1562–1633), after unknown artist, 1623 [copy] George Abbot (1562–1633), after unknown artist, 1623 [copy]
Abbot, George (1562–1633), archbishop of Canterbury, was born on 29 October 1562 in the parish of St Nicholas, Guildford, Surrey, the fourth of six sons of Maurice Abbot (1519/20–1606), shearman (clothworker), and Alice, née Marsh or March (1525/6–1606). His parents were committed protestants who, according to Daniel Featley, had converted to the new faith in Edward VI's reign, only to suffer persecution by John Story, chancellor of the diocese of London, under Mary Tudor. John Aubrey records a story that Abbot's mother, when pregnant with him, dreamed that her unborn son was destined for greatness, which ‘made several people of quality offer themselves to be sponsors at the baptismal fount’ (Aubrey, Natural History, 3.281) and later to pay for his university education, ‘his father not being able’ (Aubrey, Brief Lives, 1.24).

Education and writings

Like his elder brother and younger brother , Abbot attended Guildford grammar school and, in September 1579, he followed Robert to Balliol College, Oxford. He matriculated on 2 May 1581, graduated BA on 31 May 1582, and proceeded MA on 17 December 1585. On 29 November 1583 he was elected a probationary fellow of Balliol and was probably ordained about this time. He was active in college affairs, holding various offices including that of senior dean on four occasions between 1591 and 1597. In August 1592 Abbot took part in the moral theology disputation during Elizabeth I's visit to Oxford; in 1594 he received his BTh and in 1597 his DTh. Six theses which he debated as part of the form for his doctoral degree were published the following year as Quaestiones sex, and republished by Abraham Scultetus in Frankfurt in 1616, while for his other disputations Abbot characteristically chose to attack the Petrine commission and the papacy.

A steady stream of works appeared between 1598 and 1604. In 1594 Abbot had been licensed to preach by the university, and began to lecture each Thursday morning in the university church of St Mary on the book of Jonah to an audience of students and others, including ‘the elder and strongest sort’ (Abbot, Exposition, 636–7). Thirty sermons, delivered over the next five years, were printed in 1600 as An Exposition upon the Prophet Jonah. Abbot also contributed to three collections of university poems to mark the deaths of John Case and Elizabeth I and the accession of James I, and wrote A Briefe Description of the Whole Worlde (1599), presumably for the use of his students. Its mixture of fact and comment on geography, politics, and trade, with additional updated information, may explain why it became the most popular of his works, being regularly reprinted, and enlarged in 1605 and 1617. However, it was not until 1634, after Abbot's death, that the book appeared under his name. The book's composition and enlargement indicates the broad intellectual tastes of its author. Abbot's library as archbishop was to be noted for its works on political theory, science, mathematics, and witchcraft, with a special accent on books relating to France.

In 1604 Abbot published The Reasons which Doctour Hill hath Brought for the Upholding of Papistry … Unmasked, a rebuttal of the seminarist's A Quatron of Reasons (1600). Abbot wrote the text about 1603, but its publication was delayed by illness and his responsibilities at Oxford and Winchester, and the book contained only ten of the sixteen projected ‘reasons’ or heads for rejecting Thomas Hill's hostile critique of English protestantism. His theological writings show Abbot to have been an evangelical Calvinist, embracing the doctrine of double predestination, and implacably opposed to the teachings and practices of the Roman church. He was later credited as the first writer to expose Robert Southwell's doctrine of equivocation, and could contrast the freedom of the gospel in England with the pre-Reformation church, when ‘Antichrist … had dazeled the peoples eyes … when the decrees of popes, and the canons of councels, and customes and traditions, were in place of the written word’ (Abbot, Exposition, 340). Ministers must fulfil their evangelical duty to protestants and Catholics alike and ‘be diligent in preaching the gospell to such as wil heare, and in writing, for such as will reade, that they may know and beleeve and be saved’ (Abbot, Reasons, sig. Ff2r). At the same time Abbot distanced himself from puritan calls for major reforms of the English church. He maintained that the office of bishop was apostolic, condemned the idea of a gadding ministry, and supported ‘seemely conformity’ in ceremony (ibid., 102), thereby distinguishing his position from that of more radical Oxford contemporaries such as Henry Airay and John Rainolds.

From don to primate, 1597–1611

Abbot's early advancement owed much to Thomas Sackville, Lord Buckhurst, and from 1604 earl of Dorset, chancellor of Oxford University from 1591 to 1608, whose chaplain Abbot became at some stage in the 1590s. In 1600 Abbot stated that he had enjoyed Buckhurst's favour ‘these manie yeeres’ (Abbot, Exposition, sig. A3v), though only from 1597 did he receive major preferment. That year he became master of University College, Oxford, which lay in the chancellor's gift, and in 1600, through Buckhurst's influence, was appointed dean of Winchester. Little is known of Abbot's thirteen years as master of University College beyond the fact that he attracted the devotion of pupils such as Sir Dudley Digges and Sir George Savile, who on his death in 1616 left his son in Abbot's care.

Abbot was thrice nominated by Buckhurst to be vice-chancellor, for the academic years of 1601–2, 1603–4, and 1605–6, and thereby was drawn into public affairs on the national stage. In January 1601 both Abbot and the vice-chancellor of Cambridge were invited by the citizens of London to judge whether or not Cheapside cross, which the diocesan bishop, Richard Bancroft, proposed to repair, should stand or be demolished. Abbot argued that its images representing God and the Holy Spirit were ‘unlawful in true divinity’ and that its crucifix was ‘a ready way unto idolatry’, which he suggested should be replaced with a ‘pyramide’, though magistrates, not ‘inferiour men’, were ‘to redresse such enormities’ (Abbot, Cheapside Crosse Censured and Condemned, 1641, 2, 7, 8, 10). Abbot's judgment was endorsed by five other Oxford theologians, including Airay and Rainolds; Bancroft was probably furious at their recommendation and, with the backing of the privy council, went ahead with the restoration of the cross. In September 1603, again as vice-chancellor, Abbot headed a university delegation to Woodstock to welcome the new king, James I, and later that year helped to secure parliamentary representation for Oxford University, as an inscription on his tomb proudly records. In January 1604 Abbot attended the Hampton Court conference, to which he made no recorded contribution, though in private he was later to slight the puritan case as ‘the objections of some refragatory persons’ (TNA: PRO, SP 105/95, fols. 28v–29). Their leader was Abbot's colleague John Rainolds, president of Corpus Christi College, who in the summer of 1605 resisted all attempts by Abbot, acting on royal instructions, to pressurize him to subscribe to canon 36 of 1604 and eventually escaped unpunished. Both were commissioned to assist with the new translation of the Bible, and Abbot was one of eight Oxford divines responsible for the gospels, Acts, and Revelation. During his final term as vice-chancellor Abbot oversaw the successful visit of James I to Oxford in August 1605.

These years also saw the first tensions between Abbot and Oxford divines such as John Howson and William Laud, whose ceremonialism, sacerdotalism, and criticism of Calvinist doctrine Abbot came to view as crypto-Catholicism. Howson, vice-chancellor in 1602–3, provoked controversy in a sermon he preached on 17 November 1602 in which he vigorously defended church festivals and emphasized the importance of communal prayer rather than preaching. Abbot's reaction was to attempt, with little obvious success, to turn Chancellor Buckhurst against Howson. In 1603 Laud, then a fellow of St John's, argued for the constant and perpetual visibility of the church and rejected the idea of the proto-protestant descent of the true church through groups like the Waldensians down to the Reformation, an unconventional view which angered and alarmed Abbot, who was at that very time staunchly defending such a descent in his attack on the Catholic Dr Hill; there is no sign that Abbot took any formal action against Laud but he ‘thereupon conceived a strong grudge against him, which no tract of time could either abolish or diminish’ (Heylyn, 54).

As dean of Winchester, Abbot sat in southern convocation, which in April 1606 passed a series of canons which were refused the royal assent, since the king objected to the doctrine of non-resistance to usurpers and judged that the clergy had ‘dipped too deep in what all kings reserve among the arcana imperii’ (Onslow, 13–14). The fact that the king expressed his views in a letter sent to Abbot indicates his rising stature at court, which was to sustain him on the death of Buckhurst, by now earl of Dorset, in 1608. Abbot preached a lengthy sermon at his funeral in Westminster Abbey on 26 May, in which he praised Dorset's virtues and even quoted the deceased's confident affirmation in his will that he was an elect saint. The loss of his patron did not hinder Abbot's prospects, for almost immediately, and perhaps through royal influence, he became household chaplain to the earl of Dunbar, lord treasurer of Scotland, and accompanied him north in June 1608 at the head of a small group of English ministers. Dunbar convened a general assembly of the Scottish church at Linlithgow to confer on the full restoration of diocesan bishops, a scheme for which James VI and I had long been working. Abbot's combination of theological rectitude and advocacy of episcopacy undoubtedly furthered the royal project, and on 31 July the Scottish bishops wrote south to the king praising Abbot for ‘ane excellent sermone in presens of the assemblie, quwhairby he persuadit ws michtilie to peace and luif [love] towards utheris [others]’ (Botfield, 1.147). Abbot then travelled to Edinburgh, where he witnessed the legal proceedings against George Sprot, an accomplice in the Gowrie conspiracy against James VI of 1600, which some continued to maintain was a fiction invented by the crown to dispose of the Gowries. Abbot witnessed Sprot's execution on 12 August, and then wrote a preface to the official account, The Examinations, Arraignment and Conviction of George Sprot, to be published in London, in which he defended the king's version of the conspiracy, and argued that James's escape from assassination both in 1600 and in the Gunpowder Plot of 1605 was providential, ‘to the enlarging of his Church, to the further ruine of Antichrist, to the uniting of kingdomes, [and] to the comfort of all the godly dispersed thorow Europe’ (The Examinations, 33–4). This served to pinpoint Abbot's priorities, if not those of his master. A reward for such signal service was not long in coming.

In April 1608 Abbot was tipped for higher preferment, but in the event it was not until exactly a year later that he was nominated for the vacant see of Coventry and Lichfield, probably on the recommendation of Archbishop Bancroft, whose mistrust of Abbot dating back to their dispute over Cheapside cross in 1601 had faded, probably through the good offices of Thomas Ravis, Abbot's ally from Oxford and currently bishop of London. Abbot was consecrated on 3 December 1609 at Lambeth, only to be translated to London on 20 January 1610 following Ravis's unexpected death. At the same time Abbot resigned his mastership of University College, Oxford.

During 1610 Bancroft and Abbot established a brief but close partnership. They worked together in the House of Lords, opposing bills attacking clerical privileges, such as that against pluralism and non-residency which, Abbot claimed, ‘will overthrow the universities and bring in barbarism and I know not what’ (E. R. Foster, ed., Proceedings in Parliament, 1610, 1966, 1.73); instead, he argued that these problems were best solved by augmenting clerical incomes. On several occasions Abbot deputized for the ailing archbishop. On 21 October 1610, together with Andrewes of Ely, Neile of Rochester, and Thornborough of Worcester, Abbot consecrated three Scottish bishops, who were then to return home and consecrate their fellow bishops. Abbot was also assiduous in policing the Roman Catholic community in and around London and in September 1610 led his primary visitation of the diocese. Although Richard Rogers recorded in his diary that ‘Dr. Abbot visited. No hurt done. Laus deo’ (M. Knappen, ed., Two Elizabethan Puritan Diaries, 1966, 32), in the months following the visitation Abbot checked several persistent nonconformists. He personally suspended two ministers who refused to subscribe and conform, and warned William Gouge, curate of St Anne Blackfriars, to kneel at communion and to insist that his parishioners did likewise. Abbot also blocked the appointment of the radical William Ames as town preacher at Colchester, and urged the bailiffs to elect a ‘temperate man who will preach Christ crucified to the saving of your souls and not move contentions about those things wherein by the laws of God and of this church he is bound to obey’ (Essex RO, Morant MS, D/Y 2/2, p. 123). Their choice eventually fell on William Eyre, a graduate of the godly Emmanuel College, Cambridge, who also became Abbot's chaplain.

Archbishop Bancroft died on 2 November 1610 and, after much deliberation, in late February 1611 Abbot was chosen to succeed him. James I's decision caused much surprise, to contemporaries as to later generations, since Abbot, though bishop of London, was the most recent appointment to the episcopal bench and was preferred over such prominent colleagues as Andrewes of Ely, Bilson of Winchester, and Matthew of York. Indeed the king felt it necessary to explain his reasoning to the privy council, informing them that he was merely honouring the suit of his favourite the earl of Dunbar, who had died on 30 January 1611; it was rumoured that Dunbar had ordered that ‘his hart should be putt into a cuppe of gold and presented to the kings majestie in sign of his loiall service, in recompence wherof he desired nothinge but his majestie wold … preferre Mr Abbots to the sea of Canterbury’, a mawkish gesture which James may have found irresistible (Westminster Cathedral Archives, series A, xi, pp. 87–8). Harder headed considerations were at work, though: James was still mindful of Abbot's successful embassy to Scotland in 1608 so that his appointment might further Anglo-Scottish religious harmony, a point that Abbot underlined with a skilful letter to the king on 22 February 1611 expressing his concern about the Scottish church. Abbot's energetic pursuit of Catholic plots and plotters also commended itself to a king still reeling from the shock of the assassination of Henri IV of France the previous summer. Indeed, Abbot may well have dwelt on these threats in the sermon he preached before the king on 5 November 1610, the fifth anniversary of the discovery of the Gunpowder Plot. Abbot had the added advantage that he was Bancroft's choice as successor, and in his funeral sermon on 25 November 1610 praised Bancroft's opposition to presbyterianism and his restoration of Cheapside cross, thereby placing himself firmly in the conformist mainstream of the church. On 9 April 1611 Abbot was installed in Lambeth Palace, at forty-eight the youngest archbishop of Canterbury since the elevation of Thomas Cranmer in 1533.

Court and confessional politics, 1611–1617

On 23 June 1611 Abbot was sworn in as a privy councillor, and took full advantage of the opportunities which now opened up for political influence and intrigue in a court characterized by deepening personal and ideological tensions, especially after the death of Lord Treasurer Salisbury in 1612. For the next decade Abbot pursued a coherent set of confessional objectives: dynastic and political alliances with protestant powers abroad, robust opposition to Catholicism at home and overseas, and a reliance on regular parliaments to finance the king's domestic and foreign affairs. Abbot found allies in Prince Henry, Lord Chancellor Ellesmere, Sir Ralph Winwood, secretary of state from 1614 to 1617, Edward, Lord Zouche, and Queen Anne, but came into conflict with the crypto-Catholic earl of Northampton, his nephew the earl of Suffolk, and, from 1612, the current favourite, Sir Robert Carr. Abbot's stock with the king was at its highest in 1611–12, aided by an unblemished record and James's anxiety at Catholic plotting.

English Catholics were dismayed at Abbot's elevation, for, as one fairly observed in March 1611, ‘he is the sorest enemie that ever we had’ (Westminster Cathedral Archives, series A, x, p. 41). Using teams of spies, informers, and pursuivants, Abbot infiltrated Catholic circles, seized priests, and compiled dossiers on suspects. Catholics attending mass at foreign embassies in London found themselves under arrest, and Abbot pushed for the execution of imprisoned priests, writing in 1614 that he ‘never tooke delight in spilling of blood, but the insolencies of such persons at home and abrode doth deserve some deeper castigation then heere is layd upon them’ (TNA: PRO, SP 14/76/48). Converts from Catholicism such as John Copley and the ex-Jesuit John Salkeld were handsomely rewarded by Abbot, who, Sir Thomas Lake reported in 1614, ‘hath of our own cuntry men many proselytes wherein he much glorieth’ (TNA: PRO, SP 14/76/9). Particularly useful were those prepared to write against their co-religionists, such as the Benedictine Thomas Preston, who defended the oath of allegiance, which involved a denial of the pope's deposing power, to the considerable embarrassment of other Catholics. At the same time Abbot's Lambeth chaplains were busy writing anti-Roman polemic. One of them, Francis Mason, wrote the definitive vindication of the Anglican episcopal order in 1613, and the following year, in order to nail the Catholic claim that the episcopal succession had been broken in 1559, Abbot summoned four imprisoned priests to Lambeth to examine the entry in the register relating to Matthew Parker's consecration as archbishop. One of Abbot's minor successes was to persuade James I in 1613 that an alleged nunnery run by the Spanish noblewoman Luisa de Carvajal y Mendoca in Highgate was a danger to the state. James, smarting at the publication of the Jesuit Suarez's Defensor fidei catholicae, which defended tyrannicide, allowed the house to be raided and Carvajal was arrested. Despite the protests of the Spanish ambassador, Gondamar, the privy council insisted on Carvajal's expulsion, though she died before this could occur. Abbot also capitalized on James's desire to see Catholics take the oath of allegiance, and in 1611–12 had Lord and Lady Vaux and Lord Montagu imprisoned for their refusal. Each found a champion in the earl of Northampton, who secured their eventual release, and who as warden of the Cinque Ports did too little, in Abbot's opinion, to prevent the movement of Catholics in and out of the country. Earl and archbishop clashed over the king's various proposals in 1611–12 to find foreign Catholic spouses for Prince Henry and Princess Elizabeth, which Abbot resolutely opposed; these tensions came to a head in the autumn of 1612 when Abbot probably informed the king of Northampton's Catholic leanings in order to block his appointment to the vacant post of lord treasurer, and he may have condoned the libels against Northampton which ended in prosecution of a group of court officials in Star Chamber.

Abbot's commitment to the cause of international protestantism and his desire to intervene effectively in diplomatic debates at court led him to correspond with sympathetic English diplomats stationed abroad: he regularly exchanged letters with William Trumbull, English agent at Brussels, Dudley Carleton, ambassador to Venice and then the United Provinces, Sir Thomas Roe in Hindustan and then Constantinople, and more intermittently with Ralph Winwood at The Hague, Sir Thomas Edmondes in Paris, and Sir Henry Wotton at Venice. For, as he wrote to Roe in 1617, ‘as thinges now stand throughout the whole worlde, there is no place so remote, but that the consideration thereof is mediatly or immediatly of consequence to our affaires heere’ (TNA: PRO, SP 14/90/34). Matters of international trade, political alliances, and religious developments were all grist to his confessional mill. Another resource that Abbot drew on was the library of more than 6000 books bequeathed to his successors at Lambeth by Richard Bancroft, which Abbot arranged to be catalogued in 1612. Abbot himself expanded the collection, eventually donating more than 2000 books at his death in 1633, though as early as 1614 he could state with considerable satisfaction that his library was ‘not much inferiour unto that … of any private man in Europe’ (BL, Add. MS 72242, fol. 33r).

The nationwide shock at the unexpected death of Prince Henry in November 1612 was acutely felt by Abbot, who lost an invaluable political ally. Abbot attended the prince on his deathbed, and at his funeral on 7 December preached for two hours. More happily, the same month at Whitehall, Abbot betrothed Princess Elizabeth and the Elector Frederick of the Palatinate, leader of the Evangelical Union of German Protestants; the betrothal was a dynastic alliance which Abbot warmly welcomed, and the two were married on 14 February 1614. Abbot was close to Princess Elizabeth—a correspondent in 1616 informed Abbot that, her family aside, ‘she loveth noe man breathing soe well as shee doeth your grace’ (TNA: PRO, SP 81/14/271)—and quickly won the friendship of the elector, who gave Abbot a gift of plate worth £1000 on their departure abroad.

Abbot's standing with the king was severely dented by his opposition to the Essex annulment in 1613. His enemies Northampton and Suffolk supported a proposed annulment of the marriage of the earl of Essex and of Suffolk's daughter Frances Howard so that the latter might marry the favourite, Robert Carr, now earl of Somerset, and thereby cement a key political alliance. On 16 May 1613 Abbot was appointed to head a commission consisting of three other bishops—Lancelot Andrewes, Richard Neile, and John King—and six laymen to consider the case for an annulment on the grounds of Essex's impotency towards his wife. Abbot became convinced that the cause of non-consummation was not impotency but lack of affection, and belatedly realized that the king was determined to push through the annulment. By July he was keen to resign from the commission, and having written to James outlining his objections he received a letter refuting them in which the king described Abbot's belief that scripture could settle all controversies as ‘preposterous’ and ‘one of the puritans arguments’ (State trials, 2.797). James suspected that Abbot's opposition was a matter not of conscience but of politics, in order to frustrate the Howards; on 25 September, following the addition of two compliant bishops—Thomas Bilson and John Buckeridge—to the commission, the annulment was pronounced, with Abbot and Bishop King dissenting. The marriage of Somerset and Frances Howard went ahead on 26 December in the Chapel Royal, with Abbot looking on. By then he had written a vindication of his conduct, primarily for his own satisfaction, in which he related Bishop Neile's duplicitous behaviour, and the support he received from across the country, from other bishops, ‘many godly preachers out of all parts’, ‘nobles’, and ‘worthy personages’, was evidence of his emerging reputation as a staunch defender of morality and protestantism at court (ibid., 2.833). His stance had publicly embarrassed and angered the king, who promptly awarded the vacant see of Lincoln not to Abbot's brother Robert, for whom it had been earmarked, but to Neile. Though Abbot did eventually regain favour, the intimacy of king and primate was broken.

Abbot welcomed the decision to call parliament in 1614, and looked for a harmonious session and some effective action against Catholic recusants. He regretted its untimely dissolution, and attempted to ease the king's financial plight by organizing a voluntary contribution of plate from bishops and civil lawyers, heading the list with a gift of a basin and ewer worth £140, an example to be followed by many peers and courtiers. In September 1615, when the privy council broadly supported the idea of convening another parliament, Abbot declared that ‘he had taken as great pleasure in this day's work as in any that ever he had been at in that place’ (J. Spedding, ed., The Letters and the Life of Francis Bacon, 5, 1869, 205–6), though the king was not ultimately persuaded to summon one. The death of Northampton in June 1614 was followed by Suffolk's promotion to the treasury, and Abbot chafed at the king's pursuit of a Spanish match for the young Prince Charles, complaining in August 1614 that ‘wee are inchanted by the false, fradulent, and syren-like songs of Spaine’ (BL, Add. MS 72242, fol. 33r), which he feared would provoke divine vengeance. His solution was to hatch a plot in April 1615 with the earl of Pembroke, abetted by Queen Anne, to replace Somerset with George Villiers in the king's affections, and break the influence of the Howard interest. In May 1615 Abbot, alluding to the scheme with guarded optimism, wrote that ‘some beginning is made’ so that ‘our master may bee happy in his elder yeeres’ (ibid., fol. 44r), which was soon completed by Villiers's charm and the revelation of Somerset's complicity in the Overbury murder. Temporarily Abbot's influence improved, for his ally Lord Zouche was appointed warden of the Cinque Ports that July, while his brother Robert was finally promoted, to the see of Salisbury, in December. Hopes for a sea change in royal policy were to be disappointed, however, as the king continued to pursue religious harmony as the threat from Catholicism receded in his mind. In March 1617 serious negotiations for a royal marriage opened with Spain, and Abbot, with several other allies, found himself excluded from proceedings. His initial warm relations with Villiers became strained as early as 1617 as he resented the favourite's wish to dominate patronage, and afterwards wrote that ‘no man goeth free that doth not stoope saile to that castle’ (TNA: PRO, SP 14/171/59).

Church government and the defence of doctrine, 1611–1617

Abbot was an active metropolitan. On 30 April 1611 he took over the presidency of the southern court of high commission, which met at Lambeth, and resumed his predecessor's campaign against the use of writs of prohibition from the common law courts in cases before the ecclesiastical courts. The dispute was heard before the privy council in May, when Abbot clashed with the lord chief justice, Sir Edward Coke, and it concluded with a promise from James to incorporate reforms into new letters patent for the high commission. In the event the common law judges were dissatisfied at the changes and refused to sit as commissioners. Under Abbot's leadership the court became notorious for its harsh punishments of negligent clergymen, which some contemporaries ascribed to Abbot's ignorance of the realities of parochial life, since he had never had an incumbency; however, his published sermons suggest that he was well aware of the problems that ministers could encounter from vexatious or litigious parishioners, and he evidently believed that scandalous conduct impugned the whole clerical estate and deserved the highest censures of deprivation and degradation.

In 1612–16 Abbot conducted his metropolitical visitation of the southern province, sending his visitors to every diocese except London. The visitation articles he drew up were the first to enquire if the communion table was ‘used out of time of divine service, as is not agreeable to the holy use of it’ (Fincham, Visitation Articles, 1.100) and if all the liturgical offices were performed. Churchwardens were ordered to compile an ecclesiastical terrier of lands belonging to their parish church, in accordance with canon 87 of 1604, a measure intended to prevent the further erosion of parochial property and incomes. Though the records are missing for some dioceses, in at least three—Gloucester (1612), Salisbury (1613), and Hereford (1614)—non-preaching ministers were assigned exercises or tutors, a late revival of Elizabethan vocational training schemes.

This initiative was part of a wider attempt by Abbot to promote a learned and diligent preaching ministry. Abbot himself was always an active preacher, and, in contrast to his immediate predecessors and successor at Canterbury, filled a regular slot—Palm Sunday—on the roster of Lenten preachers before James I and then Charles I. His patronage went to evangelical Calvinists, among them the staunch Calvinist Daniel Featley, Sampson Price, lecturer at St Olave's, Southwark, and Thomas Myriell, preacher at Barnet, and he was influential in securing bishoprics for such like-minded Oxonians as John King, bishop of London 1611–21, and Miles Smith, bishop of Gloucester 1612–24.

Abbot's evangelism is the key to his moderation towards puritan nonconformists. The church could ill afford to lose some of its most committed preachers by a close scrutiny of their adherence to ecclesiastical discipline, and Abbot could happily endorse the view of James I that clerical subscription to canon 36 of 1604 was a sufficient check against militancy. On 24 May 1611 Abbot dispatched a series of instructions to the bishops of his province, among which was an order that they win round or else remove ‘anie unconformable ministers that disturbe the peace of the Churche’ (Fincham, Visitation Articles, 1.98), which was very much in line with his own work in London diocese in 1610–11. Minor infringements were treated more leniently. In 1613 Abbot's vicar-general told a nonconformist minister that he should wear the surplice most Sundays, rather than at every service; and for the godly diocese of Norwich in 1618 Abbot even toned down the ceremonial enquiries in his articles, and asked if the minister ‘commonly weare the surplis’, in sharp contrast to bishops such as Neile who asked if the garment were worn at divine service ‘alwayes and at every time both morning and evening’ (ibid., 1.xix, 100). Though Abbot can be found acting harshly against eminent puritans such as Arthur Hildersham, who refused to subscribe and to co-operate by taking the ex officio oath in high commission, this was largely at the bidding of James I; within weeks of the king's death in 1625 Abbot licensed Hildersham to preach again.

Puritans, for Abbot, were a tiny minority of extremists, typified by the exiled theologian William Ames, whose anti-episcopal writings exasperated the archbishop. The real challenge, he believed, came from those who deviated from established doctrine rather than discipline. In 1611 Abbot learned from Matthew Slade and Sibrandus Lubbertus, fellow Calvinists in the United Provinces, of the impending election of Conrad Vorstius to the divinity chair at Leiden University. Given that Catholic apologists had linked Vorstius's heterodox views, including Arianism, with some of James I's writings, Abbot had little difficulty in persuading the king to vindicate his orthodoxy by opposing Vorstius's election, which led to a protracted royal intervention in Dutch politics. At the same time the king ordered the burning of Edward Wightman and Bartholomew Legate, in Abbot's words ‘blasphemous heretikes’ who, among other positions, had maintained Arianism; the archbishop strongly endorsed the decision, and ensured that his opponent Coke be excluded from the panel of judges to hear the cases ‘for his singularitie in opinion’ (J. P. Collier, ed., The Egerton Papers, CS, 1st ser., 1840, 446–8). The two were burnt in March 1612, the last time this sentence was carried out for heresy in England. Later that year Bishop John Jegon of Norwich wrote to Abbot for advice about the appropriate punishment for William Sayer, ‘a desperate heretique’ who held a mixture of Barrowist and Anabaptist views. Abbot listed the various options available to Jegon, and added that Sayer would only burn were he to ‘denie something expressly conteyned in the three Creeds or foure first generall Counsells’ of the church (CUL, MS Mm 6.58 ss. 7, fol. 2r). Abbot's hostility towards the Dutch Arminian party, which had sponsored Vorstius's election, was evident in 1613 when the eminent Arminian and jurist Hugo Grotius visited England. Abbot, according to Grotius, regarded him as ‘practically a heretic’ (Patterson, 145).

Abbot also kept an eagle eye on the burgeoning anti-Calvinist interest at Oxford University and at court. In December 1610 he nudged Lord Ellesmere, the new chancellor of Oxford, to denounce William Laud to the king, in the hope of undermining Laud's candidacy for the vacant presidency of St John's College, Oxford. With the protection of Neile, however, Laud was elected president after a bitterly contested election. Neile's circle, the future Durham House group, contained many divines whose views Abbot suspected, including Laud, Laud's old tutor, Bishop Buckeridge of Rochester, and Benjamin Carier, whose conversion to Roman Catholicism in 1613–14 seemed to vindicate the archbishop's opposition. Carier, according to Abbot, ‘for many yeeres hath not ben held sound, but hollow and wavering, so that wee shall lose nothing by his departure’, though he added that Carier was in touch with some ‘hollow-harted people in England’ (BL, Add. MS 72242, fols. 12r, 17v).

At Oxford, Abbot's Calvinist allies included his brother Robert, regius professor of divinity until 1615, Sebastian Benefield, his former chaplain and Lady Margaret professor of divinity, both of whom wrote major works against Arminianism, and William Godwin, dean of Christ Church. In 1612 Robert Abbot and Godwin censured John Howson, the former vice-chancellor, for his provocative sermons on some notes printed in the Genevan Bible, which he claimed were tainted with Arianism; in February 1615 Robert Abbot clashed with William Laud over doctrine, and in June the archbishop had both Howson and Laud summoned to a royal hearing. The case against Laud was dismissed, and the archbishop ‘acknowledged his brothers error … and Dr Abotts him selfe asked pardon’ (TNA: PRO, SP 14/80/124). Howson's defence before James and Abbot on 10 June is better documented. The archbishop presented sixteen charges against Howson stretching back over twenty-five years, which collectively presented Howson as a crypto-papist; Howson retaliated with the insinuation that Abbot was, or had been, a puritan. James, however, refused to draw these conclusions: Howson was acquitted, though he was instructed to preach more often against Catholicism, and four years later was given the bishopric of Oxford. The limit of Abbot's influence over James was clear to see, and by denouncing Howson to the king, the archbishop had inadvertently advanced his opponent's career.

On his promotion to Canterbury, Abbot had been twice charged by James I to ‘carry my house nobly … and live like an archbishop’ (State trials, 2.1471). Abbot's household was large, and in 1614 included thirty-three gentlemen waiters-in-ordinary, thirty-five yeomen-in-ordinary, and thirty-nine retainers as well as his ‘Croydon familie’ of eight (LPL, MS 1730, fol. 7r). He exercised the liberal hospitality expected of leading churchmen, spending about £40 a week on his kitchen to entertain courtiers, ambassadors, lawyers, and divines, and at the end of each law term Abbot would invite every gentleman from Kent then in London to ‘a general entertainment’ at Lambeth, ‘where he feasted them with great bounty and familiarity’ (Heylyn, 244). Abbot visited Canterbury for the first time in August 1615 in such state that it offended James I, according to hostile Catholic observers. Relations between the archbishop and the city corporation were initially warm, and Abbot paid for a stone conduit to be erected in the high street, but at some time before 1627 he quarrelled with the city fathers over the liberties of the archbishopric and withdrew his offer of an annuity for its maintenance.

As primate Abbot was visitor to two Oxford colleges, All Souls and Merton. At All Souls he watched carefully over the college's finances, enforced discipline, and probably chose two of his chaplains—Richard Mocket and Richard Astley—to serve as warden between 1614 and 1635. In 1616 Mocket published De politia ecclesiae Anglicanae, a description of Anglican doctrine and discipline, which he dedicated to Abbot. The book offended the king, for reasons which remain unclear, though it was reported to have ‘passages derogatory to the kings prerogative’ (BL, Add. MS 72275, fol. 5r) and offered a partisan interpretation under the guise of an uncontroversial account of the church's doctrine. The king ordered the book to be burnt, and in December 1616 Abbot had the humiliation of presiding over the ceremony at Lambeth. Abbot's influence at Oxford also extended to his old college of Balliol, where another chaplain, John Parkhurst, became master in 1617. Abbot gave money to the college and secured benefactions for it. However, one of these, the foundation of Thomas Tisdale (d. 1610) of Abingdon, though initially associated with Balliol, was in 1623 augmented by money from Richard Wightwick, and reassigned to found a new college, Pembroke, apparently with Abbot's acquiescence; Balliol was left owing the trustees £300, which Abbot refunded from his own pocket.

From 1612 Abbot was also chancellor of Trinity College, Dublin. Initially he criticized several statutes, viewing the provision for lay preaching as ‘flat puritanical’ (The Whole Works of J. Ussher, ed. C. R. Elrington and J. H. Todd, 17 vols., 1847–64, 15.72), and he wrote to the archbishop of Dublin in April 1613 relating the king's anger that the surplice was omitted in the college chapel and in both cathedrals in Dublin. His concern at the weakness of Irish protestantism led him to press James I to recruit better bishops from England, but Abbot habitually left the Irish church alone. His relations with the Scottish church remained cordial, but for an awkward moment in July 1616 when, on the king's instructions, Abbot absolved the Catholic marquess of Huntly from a sentence of excommunication pronounced by the Scottish kirk, and was exposed to the accusation of unwarranted interference in the affairs of a sister church. Abbot had to pen a carefully worded explanation to Archbishop John Spottiswoode of St Andrews, assuring him that it was done on good advice and in a spirit of ‘brotherly correspondency and unity of affection’ (Botfield, 2.477).

In his relentless search for allies against Rome, Abbot was drawn towards the Greek Orthodox church and with James I's blessing established formal contact between the two churches. About 1615 he opened a correspondence with Cyril Lukaris, patriarch of Alexandria and afterwards of Constantinople, whom Abbot came to prize as a kindred spirit—an opponent of Rome and ‘as wee terme him, a pure Calvinist’ (Richardson, ed., Negotiations, 102). The two exchanged books and manuscripts and in 1617 arranged that a young Greek scholar, Metrophanes Kritopoulos, be admitted to study theology at Oxford, to be followed by several others over the next twenty years.

Abbot also played a supporting part in the defection to England of Marco Antonio de Dominis, formerly the Roman Catholic archbishop of Spalato. He arrived in London on 3 December 1616, initially as Abbot's guest at Lambeth, to be fêted by the king and the establishment. Abbot welcomed the first volume of his De republica ecclesiastica which he believed would make ‘any understanding man … stagger in his popery’ (BL, Add. MS 72242, fol. 64r); he and other councillors heard de Dominis preach at the Italian church on 30 November 1617, and a month later, to underline the English church's claims to Catholicity, de Dominis joined Abbot in consecrating two bishops at Lambeth. De Dominis was to return to the Roman fold in 1622, alienated by the widespread hostility towards Roman Catholicism of senior English protestants, of whom Abbot was clearly the ringleader; the archbishop, in turn, was to denounce him as an ‘ungodly man’ enticed away by promises of preferment in the Roman church (Richardson, ed., Negotiations, 102).

Church and state, 1618–1625

Abbot's brother Robert, bishop of Salisbury, died in March 1618. Robert had remarried after his consecration in December 1615, for which he had been sharply rebuked by his brother, who evidently held the scriptural injunction that a bishop should be the husband of one wife. According to one hostile contemporary the letter was ‘so full of reproaches and revilings’ (Heylyn, 75) that it hastened Robert's death. In May 1618 James I issued his Book of Sports which authorized some recreation on Sundays after divine service and thereby attacked puritan ideas about strict sabbath observance. Though writers since 1706 have claimed that Abbot forbade the book to be read in his church at Croydon, there is no contemporary evidence to support this, and the confusion may have arisen from conflating Abbot's known sabbatarian sympathies with the widespread refusal to read the book on its reissue in October 1633, two months after Abbot's death. On the fall of Lord Treasurer Suffolk on charges of corruption in July 1618 Abbot headed a team of seven commissioners to run the treasury which, for the next two and a half years, struggled to introduce financial reform. In August 1619 Abbot confessed that ‘as thinges now stand, it is the worst occupation that ever I was at’ (BL, Add. MS 72242, fol. 86r). In 1618–20 Abbot masterminded the transmission, translation, and publication of Paolo Sarpi's History of the Council of Trent, a deeply critical account of the papacy. In 1618 Abbot sent the civil lawyer Nathaniel Brent to Venice to persuade Sarpi to hand over the manuscript, which was sent in weekly packets back to Lambeth. De Dominis added a dedication to the work, which was published in Italian in 1619, followed by English and Latin versions in 1620. The publication was a remarkable coup, which gained wide continental readership, with French and German translations quickly appearing, and Sarpi's account was not fully answered in print until the 1650s. In 1622 Abbot rewarded Brent with the wardenship of Merton College, Oxford, in the face of competition from a rival backed by Prince Charles; in February 1626 Brent married Abbot's niece Martha, and in 1628 became Abbot's vicar-general for the province of Canterbury.

By 1618 Abbot had become seriously perturbed at the worsening religious divisions between Calvinists and Arminians in the United Provinces, which he was inclined to attribute to the absence of a supreme governor and an episcopate, ‘where there is no superior to direct, nor inferior to obey’ (TNA: PRO, SP 105/95, fol. 4v). Abbot strongly backed the decision of Prince Maurice, leader of the Calvinists, to convene the Synod of Dort in 1618–19, an international meeting of divines to settle the disputed doctrinal controversies. He picked George Carleton to be one of the four English delegates and on the withdrawal of another, Joseph Hall, owing to ill health, ensured that Hall's place was taken by his chaplain, Thomas Goad, who ‘could not but in my house be well acquainted with those Arminian businesses’ (ibid., fol. 48v). Abbot had less success directing their deliberations. Though he had briefed the delegates before their departure, and thereafter exchanged letters with them, they adopted a moderate position on the doctrine of redemption, which was sanctioned by the king though it ran counter to Abbot's view. Nevertheless Abbot could take satisfaction from the confessional solidarity which the synod had symbolized, as well as its condemnation of Arminian teaching, a stance which at that date James I openly endorsed.

In 1614 Abbot had publicly resolved to found an almshouse in his native town at Guildford and, after collecting money for some years, on 6 April 1619 was able to lay the foundation stone of his hospital of the blessed Trinity. The completed building was to comprise a huge gatehouse, brick quadrangle, and projecting wings, which contained a chapel, hall, and accommodation, including rooms for the founder's private use. In 1622 Abbot obtained a royal charter for the hospital, and appointed his nephew, Richard Abbot, as its first master. It was endowed with an annual income of £300, £200 of which was to support a master, twelve brethren, and eight sisters, and the other £100 was intended to set some of the poor to work. As late as November 1629 Abbot was making arrangements for the construction of rooms to house ‘manufacture to imploye them therein’ (Palmer, 24), and acknowledged that his nephew's rule had not been entirely successful.

Abbot avidly followed the developing European crisis of 1618–19. He may well have advised Frederick V of the Palatinate to take the proffered throne of Bohemia in the belief that James I would not abandon his son-in-law were the Habsburgs to retaliate with military force. Frederick's election to the Bohemian crown and Bethlen Gabor's successes against the Habsburgs in Hungary he viewed in apocalyptic terms, and he wrote to Secretary Sir Robert Naunton in September 1619 urging England to lead a protestant crusade against the Habsburgs. As for financing a war, ‘parliament is the old and honourable way’ (Onslow, 29–30), though the king might contemplate, he suggested, pawning or selling his jewels stored in the Tower of London. In more sober moments he also proposed an alliance with Catholic Savoy and Venice, fellow opponents of Spain.

Abbot's voice now carried little weight with the king, and he was weakened further by his strained relations with Buckingham, and the loss of key court allies: Winwood had died in October 1617, Bishop James Montagu in July 1618, and Queen Anne (whose funeral sermon he preached on 13 May at Westminster Abbey) in March 1619. Abbot thus could do nothing to prevent the king attempting to solve the crisis through mediation and an intensified pursuit of a Spanish match, and Abbot had to content himself with organizing a public collection for the Palatinate in January 1620. Nevertheless Abbot stayed in close touch with Christoph von Dohna, Frederick V's emissary in London, discussed developments with the Venetian ambassador, and exchanged several letters with Christian IV of Denmark, whose support for the reformed religion much impressed Abbot; by contrast, he believed that James overestimated his influence with the Spanish, and ridiculed the idea that through negotiations ‘wee shall have such fruites of their pure love toward us that in the conclusion wee shall do what wee please’ (BL, Add. MS 72242, fol. 91v). The expulsion of Frederick V from Bohemia in November 1620 by Spanish troops confirmed Abbot's worst fears and he informed Christian IV that if Spanish victories were to continue ‘our Rex Pacificus’ would be driven to war (46th Report, 47). Early in 1621 Abbot was in serious political trouble, accused of aiding Dohna's protest to James I at his inaction and backing Naunton's scheme to substitute a French for a Spanish dynastic match. Abbot was threatened with house arrest, but cleared his name; in June it was again rumoured that he was confined to Lambeth, at precisely the time that the king was trying to suppress public criticism of his foreign diplomacy. Abbot survived, but at the cost, it seems, of surrendering his active role in confessional politics, and his correspondence with diplomats at home and abroad was curtailed. As he informed Trumbull in July 1622, ‘there is reason of forbearance of letters till some things bee settled’ (BL, Add. MS 72242, fol. 93r).

In late July 1621 Abbot went to stay with Lord Zouche at Bramshill, Hampshire, where he was to consecrate his chapel. Abbot suffered from gout and the stone and since 1616, on the advice of his physician, had hunted in the summer months, at Nonsuch, Wimbledon, and elsewhere. On 24 July Abbot shot an arrow from his crossbow which accidentally wounded a keeper, Peter Hawkins, who died shortly afterwards. It was a devastating misfortune, which a contemporary noted ‘hath peerced his grace in the very marrowe of his bones’ (BL, Add. MS 72272, fol. 119v), and Abbot himself acknowledged that it exposed him to ‘the rejoycing of the papist, the insulting of the puritan, the greefe of my freendes, the contentment of ill-willers’ (TNA: PRO, SP 14/122/97). Crucially the king, a keen huntsman himself, was sympathetic, and immediately entrusted Abbot with the care of the privy seal while the earl of Worcester was absent from London. However, the Sorbonne declared Abbot to be guilty of canonical irregularity, while three bishops-elect, John Williams, Valentine Carey, and William Laud, refused to accept consecration from a ‘man of blood’ (Welsby, 94); probably as a result, in early October, James referred the matter to a commission of bishops and lawyers to consider Abbot's irregularity and the scandal which the manslaughter had occasioned. Abbot himself drew up an apology in his own hand, which on 8 October was sent to Sir Henry Spelman, the prominent lawyer, whose answer maintained that Abbot was by canon law irregular. The commission took their time deliberating, in the course of which Abbot found unexpected support from Bishop Lancelot Andrewes, and eventually it recommended that the king authorize a dispensation from any irregularity, which was signed by James on 24 December 1621. Though Abbot was acquitted the accident cast a long shadow over the remainder of his life. He settled an annuity of £20 on the widow of Peter Hawkins, but had to endure many taunts: in 1623 de Dominis, now abroad, branded him a murderer, while a group of women surrounded his coach at Croydon on one occasion and, when Abbot complained, up went the shout ‘you had best to shoot an arrow at us’ (Fuller, 6.44, n. f).

With his pacific diplomacy under sustained attack from the pulpit and press, on 4 August 1622 James I issued six directions to regulate preaching. Preachers were to avoid matters of state and the difficult doctrine of predestination, which had been much discussed since the Synod of Dort; they were also to omit attacks on puritans or Catholics, and to devote Sunday afternoons to preaching or teaching on the catechism. On 12 August Abbot circulated the instructions to the bishops, with a brief covering note. The directions proved controversial, since they appeared at precisely the time that the king had also suspended penal laws against Roman Catholics and released Catholic priests from prison, so that on 4 September Abbot was forced to write again and at much length to stem the flow of this criticism. He did so in terms rather different from those used by James to explain the directions: the order was necessary to stop the defections to popery and separation, and far from restraining preaching, ‘his majesty doth expect at our hands that it should encrease the number of sermons’ through the profitable exposition of the catechism on Sunday afternoons (Fincham, Visitation Articles, 1.214). Thus Abbot's public support was secured by giving an evangelical cast to an unpalatable restraint on the pulpit.

Privately Abbot was aghast at the expedition of Prince Charles and Buckingham to Madrid in 1623 to win the Spanish infanta, which he feared would be ‘the most doefull accident unto us that hath befallen in this later age of the worlde’ (Richardson, ed., Negotiations, 252). Publicly, when preaching before James I on Palm Sunday 1623, he criticized older men who grew uncertain in their religion, thereby ‘to leave theyr posteritye after them, in doubtes and waveringes [as to] which were the best’, and women who ‘came to heare masses, and soe chaunged theyr relligion’, clear allusions, respectively, to the king and to Buckingham's mother, who had recently converted to Roman Catholicism, but James chose to ignore these pointed comments (BL, Stowe MS 743, fol. 52). On 20 July privy councillors were summoned to accept the articles of the Spanish marriage treaty, and Abbot, after protesting vigorously against a general toleration of Catholicism, fell into line and took his oath to the articles. James regarded this as a small victory for him: ‘Now I must tell you miracles’, he wrote to Charles and Buckingham the following day, ‘our great primate hath behaved himself wonderful well in this business’ (G. Akrigg, ed., Letters of King James VI and I, 1984, 417–18); others, such as Simonds D'Ewes, were critical of Abbot's consent. Within days, however, there appeared a spurious version of Abbot's speech to James, which roundly condemned the proposed toleration by which ‘you labour to set up that most damnable and heretical doctrine of the Church of Rome, the whore of Babylon’ (Onslow, 35). The ‘speech’ was very widely circulated, and though Abbot privately assured the king that he was not its author, publicly he took care not to dissociate himself from it, since he accepted its broad argument and saw it as a device to restore his standing among godly protestants such as D'Ewes. The return of Charles and Buckingham empty-handed from Spain in October caused nationwide rejoicing, and Abbot was the first to welcome them back to London.

The parliament of 1624 saw an alliance of the prince and Buckingham with anti-Spanish MPs and lords to press the king to break the match and declare war on Spain. Abbot was busy on their behalf, and on 13 March presented the petition from both houses to James, promising supply were he to declare war on Spain. Its preamble, which Abbot had composed, claimed that the king had recognized the insincerity of the Spanish, for which he was sharply rebuked by James. Eight days later Abbot used his Lenten sermon to press for stricter measures against Catholic recusants and to invoke the memory of victory over the Spanish Armada in 1588. Abbot also encouraged the Commons to investigate Richard Montagu's anti-Calvinist book, A New Gag for an Old Goose; with the king's permission he then summoned the author to urge him to remove the offensive passages, advice which Montagu ignored, and chose instead to compose the inflammatory Appello Caesarem, which was printed in 1625. Overall, though, Abbot was well satisfied with this session of parliament, with the termination of the Spanish match, the grant of supply for military aid to the protestant cause abroad, and a proclamation against recusants as well as the enactment of new laws against monopolists, concealers, and others ‘so that the commonwealth is like to reape much benefitt’ (Richardson, ed., Negotiations, 253). The same year a chapter from Abbot's book of 1604 against Dr Hill was published anonymously, though with his archiepiscopal arms on the title page. While A Treatise of the Perpetuall Visibilitie and Succession of the True Church in All Ages contributed to an active debate between Catholics and English protestants, its hostility to Rome and its claim of doctrinal bonds between proto-protestants and their Reformation successors identified clearly England's friends and enemies in the current European conflict. Its anonymity is a measure of Abbot's vulnerability and the king, for one, was sceptical of its authorship.

The unwanted archbishop, 1625–1633

Abbot was at Theobalds to witness the last hours of James I, who died on 27 March 1625. His personal influence with Charles I was slight, notwithstanding their political alliance in the parliament of 1624, for there was no personal warmth between them to counteract the hostility from Buckingham and Laud, both firmly in the new king's favour. Abbot's request to Charles for stronger measures against Catholics was brushed aside, while Buckingham saw him as a troublemaker in the parliament of 1625. Without the king's backing Abbot was unable to take effective action against Richard Montagu, despite promptings from his allies in the Commons, and he was excluded from a panel of bishops subsequently convened to review Montagu's work. Despite his unwavering support for foreign protestants Abbot was forced to act with great circumspection, so that in June 1625, when he received an envoy from the Huguenot leader, the duc de Soubise, he begged him to conceal the knowledge of his visit. Abbot presided at Charles's coronation on 2 February 1626, and crowned the new king, although the organization of the service fell to Laud. He attended parliament in 1626, but owing to illness he had to be carried into the Lords and was permitted to speak sitting; and recurrent poor health, as well as political isolation, kept Abbot from court in 1626–7, an absence which led to charges that he was fomenting faction at Lambeth. Ecclesiastical patronage was passing into the hands of Laud, and Abbot complained that he had no more knowledge of promotions ‘than if I had dwelt at Venice, and understood of them but by some Gazette’ (State trials, 2.1475). Abbot's Lenten sermon in 1627 was provocative, though the text has not survived. In May the privy council suppressed Henry Burton's anti-Roman tract, The Baiting of the Popes Bull (1627), which the author had dedicated to Buckingham, and it was rumoured that Abbot would face censure since one of his chaplains had licensed its publication.

In the event Abbot was already facing a showdown with Charles I. In the spring of 1627 the king ordered him to license a sermon by Robert Sibthorpe in favour of the forced loan. Although Abbot had private reservations about the propriety of the loan, he publicly supported its collection and chaired a meeting at Lambeth to organize payment in Surrey. However, Sibthorpe's arguments in favour of absolute obedience Abbot would not endorse and he feared that Buckingham ‘had a purpose to turn upside down the laws, and the whole fundamental courses, and liberties of the subject’ (State trials, 2.1477). According to Bishop Samuel Harsnett, Abbot ‘grewe so passionate and discontent, it was not possible for him to subsist’ (BL, Add. MS 39948, fol. 187). On Abbot's refusal the sermon was licensed by Bishop George Montaigne of London on 10 May; in early July, Abbot was banished to his manor of Ford in Kent and in October his metropolitical authority was entrusted to five bishops including Laud.

While at Ford, Abbot preached regularly and wrote a narrative of the whole affair, placing the blame for his troubles on Buckingham. At the opening of the parliament of 1628 Abbot was warned by Charles to stay in Kent, but he was recalled after petitioning from the upper house, and took his seat on 28 March. Abbot backed the petition of right and criticized the ‘new counsels’ of 1626–8 that had precipitated this crisis between king and subject. In June he delivered a magnificent censure of ‘this miserable man’ Roger Maynwaring who, like Sibthorpe, had preached ‘impious and false’ doctrine in favour of the loan (Johnson, Proceedings, 5.623, 634). Parliament was prorogued in late June, and only in December was Abbot restored to his jurisdiction and to his place on the privy council, one of a number of gestures which the king made in preparation for the forthcoming session. Abbot never again attended the council: despite the assassination of Buckingham in August 1628 his enemies Laud and Neile were now both councillors, and he was not welcome at the board. However, his stance won the respect of some of the crown's critics, and in 1629 he was invited to stand as godfather to the son of the earl of Lincoln, who had openly opposed the forced loan.

Ecclesiastical affairs were now firmly in the hands of Abbot's opponents. The royal instructions to bishops of December 1629 were drawn up by Laud and Harsnett, though Abbot was sent a draft and at his suggestion a clause was inserted that bishops should not waste woods attached to their temporalities. He had little sympathy for the measures they contained against lecturers, and relicensed Alexander Udney and Herbert Palmer after they had been suspended by his subordinates for breaking the instructions. Abbot's report to the king on the observance of the instructions in 1632 was brief, complacent about puritan nonconformity, and chiefly concerned at the activities of Roman Catholics.

The archbishop, however, was not entirely a broken reed. He also remained active on the high commission at Lambeth, though Laud, sitting beside him as a fellow commissioner, was often the more vigorous and forceful of the two. Abbot also allowed Calvinist writings through the press, and in effect pursued a rival licensing policy to that operated by first Montaigne then Laud as bishops of London. As early as 1627 the earl of Clare observed that ‘what Canterbury stopps from the press, London letts go’ (Seddon, 2.352); his chaplains licensed at least three books by William Prynne, most notoriously his Histrio-mastix of 1632; and when in May 1631 an Oxford don, William Page, submitted to Abbot a defence of the canonical duty to bow at the name of Jesus against Prynne's writings, he was warned off publishing ‘a theme of so small necessity and of so greate heate and distemper’ (LPL, MS 943, p. 97). Laud, recently elected chancellor of Oxford, promptly authorized its publication there. In 1630–31 Abbot welcomed John Durie's project of a reconciliation between protestant churches, though he could do little more than allow Durie to collect signatures to his Instrumentum theologorum Anglorum, which expressed support for his mission. Nor did Abbot neglect his academic responsibilities. In 1627 he supervised the election of William Bedell as provost of Trinity College, Dublin, ‘a man of great worth’, as he told the fellows, whom he urged to attract more native Irish to the college (TCD, MS MUN/P/1/181). In January 1628, during his sequestration in Kent, Abbot upbraided the fellows of All Souls, Oxford, for converting the surplus of corn rents into a dividend rather than distributing it as poor relief. Five years later, in January 1633, he reproved them for ‘that intolerable liberty as to tear off the doors and gates’ of the college during the Christmas festivities (Welsby, 142–3).

Abbot never married. He died at Croydon Palace on 4 August 1633, and the chief mourner at his funeral on 3–4 September was his nemesis and nominated successor, William Laud. Abbot was buried on 4 September at Holy Trinity, Guildford, where his brother and executor, Sir Maurice Abbot, erected a splendid canopied tomb, adorned with eleven allegorical figures. His will, drawn up on 25 July 1632, contained numerous legacies to servants and relations, as well as one of £100 to Princess Elizabeth, and concluded with a prayer ‘beseeching Almighty God to increase the number of his faithful’ and ‘to abate more and more daily the strength of antichrist and popery’ (Onslow, 71–2).

Abbot's posthumous reputation has never been high. Laudian writers such as Peter Heylyn criticized his indulgence towards puritan nonconformists, while more moderate commentators such as Thomas Fuller censured the harsh discipline he administered at high commission against wayward ministers. A more sympathetic view came from the earl of Clare, who wrote in August 1633 that Abbot ‘was a timorous weake man, yet was he orthodoxe, and hindered muche ill’ (Seddon, 3.397). Yet as recently as the 1950s and 1960s Abbot was stigmatized as ‘indifferent, negligent, secular’ (H. Trevor-Roper, Historical Essays, 1957, 135), while Paul Welsby, his modern biographer, saw him as an ecclesiastical misfit, ‘unwanted’ by both James I and Charles I. Since then a growing appreciation of the relative stability and inclusiveness of the Jacobean church has seen Abbot's stock rise.

Abbot's measured tolerance of nonconformity and his commitment to evangelism through clerical patronage and personal preaching exemplifies the dominant churchmanship among Jacobean bishops. His visitations proposed practical solutions to long-standing problems. Vocational training schemes tackled inadequate learning among the clergy, and the provision of terriers was a safeguard against the loss of parochial revenues. Though no disciplinarian over ritual Abbot was severe on ministers convicted of scandalous behaviour and was prepared to deprive and degrade notorious offenders. As a feared opponent of both Roman Catholics and anti-Calvinists, Abbot attempted to uphold a narrow view of protestant doctrine. At court he was an outspoken champion of the cause of international protestantism, and a tireless administrator, whether serving on the privy council or the treasury commission. Abbot was also an effective parliamentarian, co-operating with clients and allies in the House of Commons, and working sedulously for regular and harmonious meetings. In short, Abbot's reputation for doctrinal rectitude and his evangelical churchmanship made him an important figure in James I's inclusive ecclesiastical establishment, as a counterweight to other political and religious viewpoints, whether pro-Spanish or anti-Calvinist. The significance of Abbot's primacy rests in his vigorous espousal of protestant views which, while they remained popular in the wider country, became less influential at court as James I's reign progressed and were increasingly marginalized after the accession of Charles I. That Abbot's political achievements were so slight can be attributed to some naïve manoeuvring in court politics, especially his failure to maintain an amicable relationship with his erstwhile protégé Buckingham; but more damaging were James I's steady movement away from Abbot's anti-Catholic agenda in the years after 1611 and Charles I's deep antipathy to Abbot's views and values. His exclusion from power and favour after 1625 demonstrated the narrowing base of the new ecclesiastical order at court, though Abbot remained an irritant until his death, and not until Laud's elevation to Canterbury in September 1633 was Laudian control over the press, high commission, and dioceses secure.

Kenneth Fincham


R. A. Christophers, George Abbot, archbishop of Canterbury, 1562–1633: a bibliography (1966) · A. Onslow, The life of Dr George Abbot, lord archbishop of Canterbury (1777) · K. Fincham, ‘Prelacy and politics: Archbishop Abbot's defence of protestant orthodoxy’, Historical Research, 61 (1988), 36–64 · K. Fincham, Prelate as pastor: the episcopate of James I (1990) · S. Holland, ‘Archbishop Abbot and the problem of puritanism’, HJ, 37 (1994), 23–43 · S. M. Holland, ‘Archbishop George Abbot: a study in ecclesiastical statesmanship’, PhD diss., U. Lond., 1991 · P. A. Welsby, George Abbot, the unwanted archbishop, 1562–1633 (1962) · N. Tyacke, Anti-Calvinists: the rise of English Arminianism, c.1590–1640 (1987) · P. Heylyn, Cyprianus Anglicus (1668) · T. W. King, ‘Some remarks on a brass plate formerly in the church of Holy Trinity at Guildford’, Surrey Archaeological Collections, 3 (1865), 254–66 · Abbot's domestic accounts, 1614–23, LPL, MS 1730 · LPL, Laud papers, MS 943 · BL, Trumbull papers, Add. MSS 72242, 72275, 72415 · state papers, domestic, James I, TNA: PRO, SP 14 · State trials · ‘John Howson's answer to Archbishop Abbot's accusations at his “trial” before James I’, ed. N. W. S. Cranfield and K. Fincham, Camden miscellany, XXIX, CS, 4th ser., 34 (1987) · B. Botfield, ed., Original letters relating to ecclesiastical affairs of Scotland, 2 vols. (1851) · F. Heal, ‘The archbishops of Canterbury and the practice of hospitality’, Journal of Ecclesiastical History, 33 (1982), 544–63 · P. E. McCullough, Sermons at court: politics and religion in Elizabethan and Jacobean preaching (1998) [incl. CD-ROM] · W. B. Patterson, James VI and I and the reunion of Christendom (1997) · K. Fincham, ed., Visitation articles and injunctions of the early Stuart church, 1 (1994) · Report of the Deputy Keeper of the Public Records, 46 (1885), 37–49 · Dudley Carleton's letter-book, 1616–19, TNA: PRO, SP 105/95 · Roman Catholic newsletters, Westminster Cathedral Archives, series A · P. Palmer, ‘Mr Jasper Yardley, second master of Abbot's hospital, Guildford’, Surrey Archaeological Collections, 31 (1918), 23–7 · J. Aubrey, The natural history and antiquities of the county of Surrey, 3 (1718), 280–1 · Brief lives, chiefly of contemporaries, set down by John Aubrey, between the years 1669 and 1696, ed. A. Clark, 1 (1898), 24 · T. Fuller, The church history of Britain, ed. J. S. Brewer, new edn, 6 vols. (1845), vols. 2, 6 · S. R. Gardiner, ed., Reports of cases in the courts of Star Chamber and high commission, CS, 39 (1886) · R. C. Johnson and others, eds., Proceedings in parliament, 1628, 5 (1983) · P. R. Seddon, ed., Letters of John Holles, 1587–1637, 2–3, Thoroton Society, 3, 5, 6 (1983–8) · J. Burke, ‘Archbishop Abbot's tomb at Guildford’, Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes, 12 (1949), 179–88 · H. C. Davis, A history of Balliol College (1963) · The negotiations of Sir Thomas Roe, in his embassy to the Ottoman Porte, from … 1621 to 1628, ed. S. Richardson (1740)


BL, letters and papers, Add. MSS 5750, 5822, 5956, 6095–6097, 6115, 6177–6178, 6394 · BL, papers · CUL, corresp. and papers · Inner Temple, London, papers · LPL, domestic accounts and list of mourners attending his funeral, MSS 1730, 3153 |  BL, Trumbull papers, papers relating to his accidental killing of a keeper at Bramshill Park · Bodl. Oxf., Tanner MSS, corresp.


attrib. R. Lockey, portrait, after 1609, University College, Oxford · S. de Passe, line engraving, 1616, NPG · oils, 1623, Abbot's Hospital, Guildford · oils, c.1623, Fulham Palace, London · oils, copy, 1623, NPG [see illus.] · Christmas Brothers, tomb effigy, 1635, Holy Trinity, Guildford

Wealth at death  

moderately wealthy: Onslow, The life