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date: 24 January 2022

Whitgift, Johnfree


Whitgift, Johnfree

  • William Joseph Sheils

John Whitgift (1530/31?31–1604)

by unknown artist

reproduced by kind permission of His Grace the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Church Commissioners. Photograph: Photographic Survey, Courtauld Institute of Art, London

Whitgift, John (1530/31?–1604), archbishop of Canterbury, was the eldest son of Henry Whitgift of Great Grimsby, Lincolnshire, and his wife, Anne Dynewell. Uncertainty surrounds the date of his birth, some sources quoting 1533, but as he himself recorded that he had reached his sixtieth year in 1590, 1530 or 1531 seem likelier dates. The Whitgift family held land in the township of that name on the Yorkshire–Lincolnshire border, and a number of them achieved local distinction; John's father became a prosperous merchant in his adopted town and an uncle, Robert, became abbot of the Augustinian house at Wellow, Lincolnshire.

Education and early career

It was this uncle who is said to have been an important influence on the young John, taking responsibility for his education at Wellow before sending him to the celebrated St Anthony's School in London, where he lodged with an aunt, the wife of a verger at St Paul's. There is a tradition that, while there, John fell out with his aunt and the canons of St Paul's for refusing to attend mass, and he was returned to the family home in Grimsby. Thereafter John, on the advice of his uncle, by this time dispossessed of the dissolved monastery at Wellow, was sent to Queens' College, Cambridge, but his evangelical leanings led him to migrate to Pembroke where Nicholas Ridley was master. Whitgift matriculated from Pembroke in May 1550 as a pensioner, and was tutored by John Bradford who, like Ridley, was later to suffer martyrdom under Mary. Whitgift was made scholar and Bible clerk before graduating BA early in 1554.

Whitgift's scholarly accomplishments secured election to a fellowship at Peterhouse on 31 May 1555 and, despite his adherence to protestantism, he remained there throughout Mary's reign, proceeding MA in 1557 and quietly fulfilling college duties with the support of the master, Andrew Perne, who dissuaded Whitgift from following his fellow protestants into exile. During the royal visitation of the university by Cardinal Reginald Pole in 1557 Perne, as vice-chancellor, protected his protégé from scrutiny and thereafter the two men established a friendship which lasted until Perne's death in the archiepiscopal palace at Lambeth on 26 April 1589.

Following the accession of Elizabeth I, Whitgift was ordained deacon at Ely on 7 July 1560 and priest later that year; he soon established a reputation as a preacher after a sermon at Great St Mary's, Cambridge, in which he denounced the pope as Antichrist, a subject to which he was frequently to return. The returned exile Richard Cox, now bishop of Ely, made Whitgift one of his chaplains in 1560 and, in the same year, collated him to the rectory of Teversham, Cambridgeshire. Whitgift remained at Peterhouse and proceeded BTh in 1563, when he was also appointed Lady Margaret professor of divinity. In his first lecture he once again identified the pope as Antichrist. This appointment placed Whitgift in an influential position both within the university and the fledgeling church, and his lectures and strong anti-papal stance commended him to some of the more radical young protestants in the colleges, but he opposed them and sided with the college heads in the dispute over the electoral procedures for the vice-chancellorship in 1564. In the following year, however, he revealed his sympathy with the churchmanship of the more radical dons by adding his name to that of the vice-chancellor and others, including his mentor Matthew Hutton, under a letter to the chancellor, William Cecil, on 26 November asking that the order for the wearing of surplices in college chapels be withdrawn. Whitgift had already been named as one of those who had kept the surplice out of Peterhouse chapel and belonged to a moderate group who considered that enforcement of the vestments would deprive the university of many able young scholars.

The letter to Cecil was not well received, and the order was upheld, but the following months seem to represent a watershed in Whitgift's career. Despite his initial objections, Whitgift was soon persuaded of the rightness of government policy and preached in defence of the surplice, thereby establishing early in his career that high regard for hierarchical authority in matters of church order which throughout was to set him at odds with his more radical fellow Calvinists. This shift in position brought him to the notice of Cecil, and preferment followed; he was made a university preacher on 10 June 1566 and on 5 July following his salary as Lady Margaret professor was increased from 20 marks to £20 in recognition of the esteem he was held in by the university for his preaching, which had also begun to attract royal notice. Whitgift proceeded DTh in 1567, taking as his subject once again the proposition 'That the pope is Antichrist'; later that year he was made regius professor of divinity. Already, in April, being by then senior fellow at Peterhouse, he had been elected master of his old college, Pembroke College, in succession to Matthew Hutton, but he only remained there for three months before transferring on 4 July to the much better endowed mastership of the royal foundation of Trinity College.

Master of Trinity

Trinity had a radical fellowship, and when Whitgift arrived his own commitment to the defence of royal policy was still questioned in some quarters. Within three years conflicts with those fellows, and in particular with Thomas Cartwright, were to prove a defining moment in the post-Reformation English church. More immediately, however, college and university business occupied his energies. The college statutes were revised so that the chapel readers were no longer required to attend in the midsummer vacation, and the number of scholars to be admitted annually from Westminster School was restricted to two in order to allow the master and fellows greater discretion in the support of other worthy scholars. Whitgift was soon active within university affairs, intervening unsuccessfully on behalf of Roger Kelk for the mastership of St John's in 1569 and, in the same year, serving on a commission of inquiry into the activities of the religiously conservative provost of King's, Philip Baker. His talents and energy were beginning to be noticed further afield; his preaching had attracted the attention of the queen, who called him her 'White-Gift', and he was part of a commission of inquiry into a dispute between the citizens of Leicester and their preacher in 1567. Whitgift was rewarded by appointment to the third prebendal stall at Ely on 5 December 1568.

This preferment may have influenced Whitgift's decision to resign his professorship in October 1569. He was succeeded by William Chaderton, Lady Margaret professor, but it was the appointment of Thomas Cartwright to this chair that sparked off controversy. In spring 1570 Cartwright delivered lectures on the first two chapters of Acts in the course of which he set out a broadly presbyterian form of church government as the only model authorized by scripture and the primitive church. This amounted to a call for the abolition of episcopal government and received significant support among the younger Cambridge scholars, drawn by Cartwright's learning and rhetorical skills. No public response to these views was produced at this time, but a complaint against Cartwright was made to Cecil by Chaderton on 11 June. The university's fierce divisions on the issue during the summer were characterized in a famous meeting of senate on 29 June in which the supporters of Cartwright vetoed every name proposed for election to its headship, and the vice-chancellor, John May, responded by vetoing the grace required for the award of Cartwright's DTh.

Petitions and counter-petitions landed on Cecil's desk throughout July and he offered Cartwright a conference in Michaelmas term. Whitgift wrote to Cecil on 19 August objecting to this and, following the disturbances of the summer, stressing the need for a new set of statutes for the university. Subsequently drawn up by Whitgift with the help of a few others, including his old friend Perne, these reduced the role of the regents and produced a more oligarchic structure, which effectively placed the government of the university more firmly in the hands of the vice-chancellor and the heads of houses. The statutes quickly received the royal assent on 25 September, and Whitgift's leading role in this matter is perhaps best demonstrated by his election to succeed May as vice-chancellor in early November. By that date the conferences with Cartwright had taken place, but no agreement had been reached, and Whitgift used his new authority to proceed more vigorously against him. On 11 December Cartwright was summoned to the vice-chancellor's consistory court, which met in the master's lodge at Trinity, presented with a list of articles based on his lectures and, under the terms of the new statutes, ordered to recant his opinions: this he refused to do and was deprived of his chair and forbidden to preach in the university. Cartwright withdrew to Geneva, probably in the company of Walter Travers, who was removed from his fellowship at Trinity about this time, and thereafter the points at issue between him and Whitgift moved beyond the confines of Cambridge. Whitgift remained busy within the university for another seven years; Trinity grew in numbers and distinction under his assiduous care so that it rivalled St John's, but it was a care which, in the eyes of opponents such as Giles Wigginton, seemed overbearing and oppressive. Whitgift was a regular attender at hall, sharing commons with the students, and was a conscientious teacher and preacher.

That preaching now also took place at Lincoln, where Whitgift had been elected dean on 19 June 1571, and where he spent time each summer, receiving a faculty from Archbishop Matthew Parker in October permitting him to hold both posts, and any other benefices, in plurality. The Lincoln appointment may have been in anticipation of a move from Cambridge where the continuing battle with Cartwright's supporters was proving divisive. Cartwright's return to Cambridge in 1572 disturbed the college once more and in September Whitgift removed Cartwright from his fellowship on the formal, if tendentious, grounds of the latter's failure to take priests' orders, a decision that brought protests from some members of the college, and provoked in turn a threat of resignation from the master. On 28 September six of his fellow heads of house appealed to Cecil, now Lord Burghley, on Whitgift's behalf, asking the chancellor for some public acknowledgement of his contribution to the governance and intellectual life of the university.

In the same year Whitgift began to play a more public role in the church. He acquired the prebendal stall of Nassington at Lincoln and another at Lichfield Cathedral, exchanged the living of Teversham for a Lincolnshire one at Laceby, and was returned as a representative of the diocese in the lower house of convocation, where he was chosen prolocutor (that is, president). At this time the church was convulsed by the storm that broke over the Admonition to the Parliament, and its polemical consequences were to occupy much of Whitgift's time, and that of his old adversary Cartwright, in the following years. The university continued to make heavy claims on him: he served another term as vice-chancellor in 1573 and was one of the commissioners appointed to visit St John's in 1576, when he also wrote to Burghley requesting that effective steps be taken to prevent the sale of fellowships and scholarships. By that date his public defence of the religious settlement had made it clear that he was going to be a key figure in the future of the English church and that episcopal preferment beckoned; unsuccessfully recommended by Parker for Norwich in 1575, he was nominated to Worcester on 24 March 1577 and enthroned by proxy on 12 May, resigning the mastership of Trinity in June. This promotion owed much to Whitgift's successful, if troubled, mastership, which left the college in good shape financially and intellectually—a fact acknowledged by his successor John Still and one that has been lost to sight in more general histories beneath the disputes with Cartwright and the highly coloured account of Trinity under Whitgift provided by Giles Wigginton in 1584. Yet it was the dispute with Cartwright that thrust Whitgift into national prominence more quickly than would have otherwise been the case, and which was to have far reaching consequences for the English church.

The Admonition controversy

With the calling of parliament in April 1571 the debate about further reform of the church had moved from Cambridge back to the capital, but the introduction of a bill to remove ‘popish abuses’ from the prayer book led to a breakdown of relations between the bishops and the puritans, and an episcopal preaching campaign was launched from Paul's Cross against the proposals in the bill. Parliament was dissolved and the bishops demanded from some of the leading radical clergy subscription to the articles of religion, recently given statutory force in parliament. A new parliament was called for May 1572, by which time Cartwright had returned from Geneva. Two London ministers, John Field and Thomas Wilcox, prepared a pamphlet addressed to parliament setting out the desirability of establishing a fully reformed presbyterian church order and adding a list of popish abuses remaining in the English church, which represented a satirical and vituperative attack on the bishops. The tract, incorporating both elements, was considered inflammatory by some radicals and was not published until June. By that time the queen had confiscated a bill 'concerning rites and ceremonies' and, effectively stifling further parliamentary debate, ordered that no matters of religion should be discussed by parliament before they had been approved by the bishops and the lower house of convocation, of which Whitgift was president.

The Admonition to the Parliament, an appeal to the public in the guise of a letter to parliament, was the most outspoken protestant criticism of the Elizabethan settlement to appear by that date, and divided the puritans themselves. Its pithy, scurrilous style gave it notoriety and made an immediate impact, drawing a reply from Paul's Cross by Thomas Cooper, bishop of Lincoln, as early as 27 June, and it reached its third edition by August. At about this time Whitgift was entrusted with the task of replying to the Admonition, which he took on with some urgency. In a letter of September informing Archbishop Parker of Cartwright's removal from his fellowship, Whitgift declared that he had completed his refutation and had most of it in fair copy, sending the full text to the archbishop in the following month. By that date the authors of the Admonition had been identified and imprisoned. Yet before Whitgift's work could be published A Second Admonition to the Parliament appeared, penned by his Cambridge adversary Cartwright, in which a fuller account of the presbyterian discipline was set out. Whitgift's Answer to the Admonition was published, probably in November 1572, and an augmented edition, containing a section addressing Cartwright's Second Admonition, appeared in February 1573.

The frenetic rate of publication was continued by Cartwright, whose Replye to an Answere of Dr Whitgifte appeared in April 1573. This full exposition of the Reformed position reinvigorated radical support but brought strong reaction from the government. A proclamation ordering the surrender of the Admonition and other books was issued. Bishops were required by the privy council to act more firmly against nonconformist clergy and, in December, a warrant was issued for Cartwright's arrest, forcing him into exile once again. Encouraged by Parker, Whitgift devoted much of this year to an extensive response to Cartwright, answering him point by point in his Defense of the Aunswere to the Admonition Against the Replie of T.C. which appeared in 1574. On 26 March 1574 he preached the new year sermon before the queen at Greenwich, setting out his defence of episcopal government; it was published later that year. Other supporters of Cartwright entered the debate with Whitgift at this time, but the major response came from the exiled Cartwright himself, in 1575 and again in 1577, to neither of which Whitgift replied.

These years between 1570 and 1575 were crucial to the developing character of the Elizabethan church, and Whitgift's views were to prevail with the queen and with authority; the points at issue between him and his opponents at this time therefore need some consideration. Behind the polemical tone of the controversy it is worth locating points of agreement: both Whitgift and his opponents shared a Calvinist theology and, in matters of ecclesiology, they each recognized the importance of theological scholarship and the central role of scripture in defining the nature of the church. In the climate of the early 1570s they each sought to locate their position between what they saw as the corruptions of the Roman church on the one hand and the excesses of Anabaptism on the other, both of which evils they identified among the views of their opponents. Behind these common protestant assumptions what was at stake was the true nature of the English church and, in the course of the debate, two conflicting views emerged of the Christian community and of its relations with social and political power. For Whitgift the importance of maintaining the distinction between the visible and the invisible church was crucial and it was wrong to try to conflate the two: the invisible spiritual government of the church belonged to God, but 'The visible and external government is that which is executed by man and consisteth of external discipline and visible ceremonies practised in that church that containeth in it both good and evil' (Works, 1.183). This important passage illustrates two key elements in Whitgift's position: first he envisioned the church as comprising both good and evil, thereby differing from Cartwright, who postulated a closer relationship between the visible church, the godly, and the invisible, the elect, and was of the view that the ungodly were not full members of the church and should be firmly excluded from the sacraments. Whitgift's more inclusive definition led on naturally to his second point, for it was precisely because the church contained both good and evil that external discipline was necessary. That discipline was to be provided by the Christian magistrate and therefore 'must be according to the kind and form of government used in the commonwealth' (ibid., 2.263). This moved the earlier debate between the bishops and the puritans on to rather different ground; the dispute over whether ceremonies and church discipline were things indifferent, adiaphora, or scripturally ordained remained central but, whereas earlier defenders of the establishment had generally defended the prayer book and episcopacy on essentially pragmatic grounds, Whitgift now postulated a view of church–state relations that removed any distinction between the church of Christ and the Christian commonwealth, in which the queen, as supreme governor, should 'govern the church in ecclesiastical affairs as she doth the commonwealth in civil' (ibid., 2.264). The settlement of 1559 and the royal supremacy were thus inextricably linked, and this became the cornerstone of subsequent defences of the establishment against criticism from the puritans. It was an argument, however, written in a defensive mode, and Whitgift's lengthy tract lacked the emotional appeal of Cartwright's work; particularly on the question of the church's role in edification, which the puritans described as the building of Christ's kingdom in the community but which Whitgift saw as the growth of understanding in the individual. Thus, while Whitgift laid the foundation for the later theoretical work of Richard Hooker, the style and emphasis of the Defense did little to win over his opponents. It did, however, receive the endorsement of the queen and of most of the privy council.

Bishop of Worcester

The new bishop was enthroned by proxy on 12 May 1577 and left Cambridge the following month. The diocese to which Whitgift was preferred was a known centre of Catholic activity, and almost immediately he was required to report, with his fellow bishops, on the state of his diocese and the surrounding area, describing it as 'much warped towards popery' (Strype, Whitgift, 1–166), with seminary priests active in gentry households. In all thirty-nine Catholics were listed in his report on Worcester, including members of well-established families such as the Throckmortons, Blounts, Talbots, and Heaths. The political clout of these families was considerable and the county continued to cause problems to the bishop, who engaged in public conference with prominent Catholics in 1582 and also sought to gain control over the right of nomination to the county bench. His concern with recusancy stretched beyond the diocese itself for he was almost immediately appointed vice-president of the council in the marches of Wales and, in the absence in Ireland of the president, Sir Henry Sidney, he was the crown's principal official in the region. In this capacity Whitgift fulfilled a number of responsibilities, dealing with musters, investigating charges of treason, and handling factions within the council itself. Recusancy, however, remained his chief concern. In the first eighteen months of his vice-presidency the council carried out a vigorous campaign against Catholics and in particular against the group of well-connected gentry attending mass at Plasnewydd, the home of John Edwards, and those attending pilgrimage at the celebrated shrine at St Winifred's Well. Edwards was imprisoned early in 1579 and in June the council was given a general commission to inquire into the state of the Welsh dioceses and to pursue recusants. Whitgift sought a commission for himself and the Welsh bishops, as he did not trust the local magistrates to act against their Catholic neighbours, but on the return of Sidney in 1580 his policy was modified.

One of the principal weapons of the reformed clergy against Catholicism was preaching, and this was a responsibility that Whitgift took seriously. His first biographer and comptroller of his household, Sir George Paule, portrayed Whitgift at Worcester as the ideal protestant bishop who 'never failed to preach upon every Sabbath-day: many times riding five or six miles to a parish church, and after sermon come home to dinner', a practice which he continued at Canterbury where 'No Sunday escaped him in Kent, as the gentlemen there can well witness' (Paule, 57). According to Paule, Whitgift's style was grave, comely, and plain, virtues also regarded highly among the puritans and, notwithstanding the literary conventions behind this account, Whitgift's preaching activity placed him in a tradition of pastoral episcopacy which his views on episcopal authority have tended to obscure. Whitgift also sought to secure a preaching ministry in his cathedral and diocese and in 1578 was granted by the queen the right of appointment to vacant cathedral posts. This proved of only modest value, but he did appoint two of his former colleagues at Trinity, Godfrey Goldsborough and Gilbert Backhouse, to canonries, and Goldsborough as archdeacon of Worcester. Within the diocese Whitgift was a strong defender of episcopal rights, in particular with regard to his estates. After protracted negotiation, he was granted relief from first fruits for the bishopric, and by careful management he reduced the arrears of his tenants; he returned the rent-corn of two valuable manors, at Hallow and Grimley, to the see, paying £300 to protect the rights of his successors, and he also secured the title to his residence at Hartlebury Castle, though this continued to be a source of dispute for some time. This careful management had important consequences for the social and political authority of the church in the region, enabling Whitgift to provide hospitality in a way that his role in local politics required but which his predecessors had failed to do. Outside Worcester he was called upon to intervene in neighbouring dioceses, drawing up new statutes for Hereford Cathedral and heading a commission inquiring into disputes between William Overton, recently appointed bishop of Coventry and Lichfield, and the dean and chapter and citizens of Lichfield. In both cases the cathedrals established lectureships as a result of Whitgift's actions. Both these commissions date from 1583, by which time it was clear that Whitgift was the preferred successor to the suspended archbishop of Canterbury, Edmund Grindal. Indeed, one of those commissions was issued in Grindal's name, as provincial, and Whitgift had already been active on the national scene, particularly during the parliament of 1581, when his central role in drawing up the bishops' response to the articles for reform of abuses in the church presented by Sir Walter Mildmay suggests that his advancement to Canterbury was widely anticipated. By 1583 the vacuum in the leadership of the church caused by Grindal's suspension meant that the question of resignation was raised once again, but before the archbishop, now blind and frail, could complete the formalities he died, on 6 July 1583. On 14 August Whitgift was nominated his successor and on 23 October he was enthroned as primate.

Archbishop of Canterbury, 1583–1587: parliamentary opposition

The prospect of Whitgift's elevation had already aroused concern in puritan circles and among their sympathizers in the privy council, and they were not to be disappointed. Before his enthronement Whitgift, with other bishops, including John Piers of Salisbury and John Aylmer of London, had prepared a schedule of articles 'touching preachers and other orders for the Church', which received royal approval and were issued to the dioceses on 29 October. These orders amounted to a comprehensive platform of reform, including stricter proceedings against Catholics and non-attenders at church, a survey of the qualifications of the parochial ministry, and closer scrutiny of the quality of candidates for ordination; this programme would have commanded the support of most protestants, but a further clause demanding that all clergy subscribe to three articles aroused opposition. Two of these articles, one endorsing the royal supremacy and another stating that the Thirty-Nine Articles were agreeable to the word of God, were unexceptional to all but the tenderest of consciences, but the second article, which stated that the Book of Common Prayer and the orders of bishops, priests, and deacons contained nothing contrary to the word of God, and that clergy should use the prayer book and no other in public worship, reopened all those points of difference between the puritans and the bishops that had been largely overlooked in the previous six years. The demand for widespread subscription to such a comprehensive endorsement of the prayer book, made public in Whitgift's Paul's Cross sermon on 17 November, in which he inveighed against the disobedience of papists, Anabaptists, and 'our wayward and conceited persons', was bound to alienate not only the radicals but many moderate nonconforming clergy in the provinces.

Whitgift was the prime mover in this policy, and enjoyed the unwavering support of the queen, if not of many of her ministers. The imposition of the ‘three articles’, as they came to be known, met with resistance throughout the province. The clergy of the Chichester diocese were the first to be asked to subscribe and twenty-four ministers were suspended for refusing: similar responses were received throughout the first half of 1584; some sixty ministers each from the puritan strongholds of Norfolk and Suffolk, seventeen in Kent, twenty-three in Lincolnshire after discussion with the bishop, and in Leicestershire over 300 were recorded as making a limited subscription, suggesting some sort of accommodation. Accommodation there had to be, for Whitgift's articles had revived the dormant organizational powers of the radicals, and in particular those of John Field: meetings of clergy were held in the counties and petitions sent to the privy council, other petitions came from town corporations and from sympathetic gentry in the shires, while prominent protestant scholars, including the venerable John Foxe, argued against rigid subscription when the Catholic threat was increasing. Eventually, in June, Whitgift bowed to the advice of Burghley and of Sir Francis Walsingham and was persuaded to accept conditional subscription from those clergy who did not seek to disturb the peace of the church. In the end only nine ministers, including Field, suffered deprivation for refusing to subscribe. The price, however, was a renewed sense of solidarity among the puritan clergy which created an organization prepared to confront Whitgift on his own terms, as they did in 1584–5 by producing their own surveys of the condition of the provincial clergy in response to the official one.

Thwarted in his attempt at a comprehensive discipline of the church, Whitgift sought to separate the moderates from the radicals by proceeding against the recalcitrant: the weapon chosen for this strategy was the ecclesiastical commission, which had been renewed in December 1583. In May 1584 Whitgift produced a list of twenty-four articles, encompassing the three articles objected to earlier and directed specifically against puritans, which the accused had to answer under the oath ex officio mero. This was a procedure in civil law previously used against recusants, the legality of which was vigorously contested by common lawyers. The use of this oath, which required defendants to promise to answer questions before knowing what those questions were, provoked further petitions to Whitgift and led to a widening rift between the archbishop and his erstwhile supporters in the privy council, most notably Burghley, who objected to the ‘Romish style’ of the new articles. On 20 September a majority of the council wrote to Whitgift and Aylmer complaining of irregularities in proceedings against the godly ministers in Essex.

This troubled year ended with Whitgift writing a lengthy account to the queen in defence of his actions, and with the calling of parliament, which quickly informed Whitgift and the government of the depth of resentment that his policies had caused in the country. Events abroad, the assassination of William of Orange in Delft and the episcopal reaction in Scotland which saw many Scottish presbyterians withdraw to England, fuelled that resentment with insecurity. Conferences of ministers took place in the provinces and sent delegates to London where Field's organizational powers kept up the pressure, lobbying at parliament was backed by masses of paperwork and by prayer and fasting in the country. Successive bills for reform of the ministry were presented immediately parliament met, but it was on 14 December that the puritan campaign began in earnest when, despite the queen's prohibition on debate about religion, further bills were introduced, including a bill in the Commons requesting the adoption of the Geneva prayer book, recently published in translation by Robert Waldegrave, and the implementation of a presbyterian system of discipline. This was presented to the Lords a week later but, although sympathetic to some of the complaints, they reminded the lower house of the royal prohibition and deferred their answer. This decision was delayed until 22 February, after the Christmas recess, when Burghley answered on behalf of the government reiterating the queen's desire to refer all matters of religion to the bishops and convocation rather than to parliament. Whitgift followed Burghley, answering the Commons' bill point by point at great length and (at least according to Robert Beale, clerk of the privy council) in intemperate language. Whitgift's uncompromising words in defence of episcopacy and the rights of the church angered the Commons, who were preparing a reply when, on 27 February, the queen made her support of the bishops absolutely clear at an audience where Whitgift and representatives of the two houses of convocation came to offer her the clerical subsidy. Wherever the blame for the shortcomings of the church lay, the queen was determined that the remedy lay with the bishops and renewed her prohibition on parliament discussing religion. Despite this the Commons introduced another bill which occasioned a confrontation between Whitgift and the earl of Leicester in the Lords before the session ended on 29 March.

The eighteen months since his nomination had proved a bruising time for the new archbishop who, although he could count on the support of Elizabeth, found his relations with erstwhile supporters on the council severely strained. Throughout these months Whitgift recognized that the issues at stake were essentially the same as those in the earlier conflict with Cartwright, but Cartwright's name, despite the latter's continued exile at Middelburg, came to encapsulate in Whitgift's mind the character of the opposition he faced to a degree that rendered his arguments the more uncompromising and suggested that, for him, there was something more than a matter of principle at stake. Indeed, one contentious issue at this time involved another of Whitgift's former adversaries at Trinity, Walter Travers. Despite not having episcopal orders, Travers was reader at the Temple Church in 1584 when the mastership fell vacant. His candidature was supported by Burghley and some of the benchers, but Whitgift opposed the appointment and in 1585 secured the post for Richard Hooker. The benchers responded by making Travers the afternoon lecturer so that, according to one contemporary, each Sunday the pulpit proclaimed Canterbury in the morning and Geneva in the afternoon. Whitgift was called upon to adjudicate this debate, which he did in March 1586 by revoking Travers's preaching licence. By then Cartwright had returned from exile and Whitgift had on 2 February become a member of the privy council.

Whitgift's elevation to the council was secured during the absence of his chief opponent, Leicester, in the Low Countries. This was a significant appointment, and testimony to Whitgift's standing with Elizabeth, who did not give any other archbishop such a promotion. Its immediate effect was to increase the archbishop's authority, in a formal sense at least. Having seen the effect of clandestine presses in the puritan campaigns of 1584–5, he secured an order from Star Chamber in June 1586 placing control of printing and the press in his hands and those of Bishop Aylmer. This order empowered them to fix the number of printers and, through the Stationers' Company and the ecclesiastical commission, to determine what could be published, adding the punitive sanctions of confiscation and destruction if any illicit presses were discovered.

Meanwhile Leicester's disastrous campaign in the Netherlands, and the implication of Mary, queen of Scots, in the Babington plot in the summer of 1586, diverted attention temporarily from the problem of nonconformity to the international Catholic threat. A new parliament was summoned to deal with the queen's safety, and at its opening in October, Whitgift was one of three commissioners appointed to deputize for Elizabeth while parliament discussed the fate of her cousin. The issue was not resolved until the execution of Mary on 8 February 1587. Discussion then centred on the financing of Leicester's campaign until, on 27 February, Antony Cope rose to present a ‘bill and book’ for reformation of religion, a programme that represented the culmination of a carefully planned operation. For the previous two years Walter Travers had been editing the Book of Discipline, a comprehensive statement of the ideal form of reformed worship and church government along Genevan lines adapted to the needs of a national church. Manuscript copies of the work had been circulated to conferences of ministers in the provinces for approval and comment, and this was the book to which Cope's bill referred. Cope and other radical MPs were imprisoned in the Tower by the time the government gave its response on 4 March. That response, given by three ministers, included a speech from Whitgift's ally at court, Sir Christopher Hatton, which revealed the close co-operation that had emerged between these two and Hatton's chaplain, Richard Bancroft, in combating puritan claims, an alliance that signalled that the establishment was about to move on to the offensive in its engagement with the puritans. Convocation attacked the bill and book, but parliamentary attempts to curb Whitgift's use of the ex officio oath against puritan clergy were stopped only by the queen's veto, perhaps procured by Whitgift, which was couched in terms that brooked no compromise. Henceforth redress in matters of religion was to be strictly limited to the clergy.

Archbishop of Canterbury, 1588–1593: Marprelate and the prerogative courts

Whitgift's victory in parliament only served to shift the arena of conflict: from parliament to the printing press, from the press to the provinces, and from the provinces to the courts. None of these shifts enhanced Whitgift's reputation, then or thereafter. That there was widespread, organized, puritan activity in some counties commanding the support of significant sectors of the local gentry had become clear during the parliamentary debates, but the failure to bring about reform by statute and the deaths of Leicester and other key figures in 1588 left a mood of angry frustration which spilled over into extremism. This became apparent in October 1588 with the publication of The Epistle of Martin Marprelate, the opening salvo in a scurrilous press campaign from the underground press of Robert Waldegrave. The appearance of this satire, which began with a criticism of Whitgift for failing to answer Thomas Cartwright's volumes of 1575 and 1577, was soon followed by others as the press moved around the country, and the archbishop, 'that miserable, and desperate caytiffe wicked John Whitgift, the Pope of Lambehith' (Theses Martinianae, 1589, epilogue), was one of the chief targets of Marprelate's pen, in company with bishops Aylmer of London and Cooper of Winchester. Lampooned as 'the Canterbury Caiaphas' in reference to his use of the high commission against godly ministers, Whitgift took on direction of the search for the offending press, endorsed Bancroft's plan for a literary response in kind to the satires, and pursued the offending authors and printers, once found, through the high commission and Star Chamber.

Meanwhile parliament met once again on 4 February 1589, and with Hatton now lord chancellor and moderate puritans uncertain of the wisdom of Marprelate's campaign, Whitgift and his chaplain Bancroft moved on to the attack. Bancroft's sermon at Paul's Cross on 9 February, published the following month, set out a confident defence of episcopacy per se, distinguishing the English church from other protestant churches, and in particular the Scottish church, and dismissing the puritans as false prophets, likening them to earlier sectaries. An attempt in the Commons to challenge Whitgift's proceedings in the high commission as contrary to common law got nowhere, and the only debate allowed concerned an abortive bill for the removal of clerical pluralism and non-residence, in which Burghley and the archbishop found themselves in opposition. The furore caused by the Marprelate tracts gave Whitgift the opportunity to pick off those whom he considered to represent the radical presbyterian leadership, especially after the discovery of the press in August 1589 revealed information about the clandestine clerical classis meetings in the midlands. As a result of the evidence he now had, Whitgift pressed home a case against his old foe Cartwright and eight other ministers, first in the high commission and then in Star Chamber. Scores of clergy were hauled before the commissioners in the winter of 1589–90, but the balance of power in the council and in the country had shifted so much that these events and the subsequent trials aroused less opposition than the subscription campaign of 1584. What Whitgift sought was evidence of seditious conspiracy on the part of the accused, but all nine—four from Warwickshire, including Cartwright, three from Northamptonshire, one from Staffordshire, and a roving Devon preacher—refused the ex officio oath, effectively blocking proceedings in the high commission. All except Cartwright were therefore deprived of their livings, degraded from orders, and imprisoned in the summer and autumn of 1590, Cartwright joining them at the end of October.

While this case was progressing another presbyterian, John Udall, was also tried, for his authorship of the Demonstration of Discipline, which the commissioners deemed a felony, committing the case to the assizes. In July the case was heard, the assizes being held at Whitgift's manor of Croydon, and at a later trial at Southwark in February 1591 Udall was sentenced to death, subsequently commuted to exile, but he died before the sentence could be carried out. In October 1590 Whitgift's personal involvement in the campaign brought a rebuke from Burghley, who advised him not to join the tribunal interrogating Cartwright in order to avoid any suspicion of personal rancour. During the winter of 1590–91 the imprisoned leaders kept in contact with their supporters, who organized petitions on their behalf, and in the spring it was decided, allegedly by Whitgift and Hatton, to transfer the case to Star Chamber. The trial began on 11 May, but the evidence for conspiracy remained difficult to uncover and the ministers put up a stout defence. The Hacket conspiracy of July changed matters, providing circumstantial evidence of contacts between the imprisoned ministers, especially Cartwright, and the lurid events that ended in William Hacket's execution for treason.

The death of Hatton in November removed Whitgift's greatest ally, but by this date his position in the council was so secure that he was able to ensure the succession of Sir John Puckering, the prosecutor in Star Chamber, as lord chancellor. The charge of conspiracy remained unproven but the spirit of the opposition was broken and by the end of the year a way out of the impasse was being sought. In January five of the prisoners were granted bail on signing a submission admitting that their meetings had been offensive to the queen and the council, but Whitgift still proved intransigent, especially in the matter of Cartwright, and at the end of February required another humiliating submission which the prisoners refused to sign. In April a new set of interrogatories were presented by the council which offered a way forward. The replies to these were sufficiently accommodating to permit partial relief by way of house arrest, and over the summer many of the prisoners returned to their homes, though under strict conditions. Cartwright was required to appear before the judges at any time within twenty days' warning being given.

There is no doubt that the puritans saw Whitgift as the chief protagonist in the cases made against them and it is clear both from correspondence with Burghley and his actions in early 1592 that he was intransigent in his opposition. The depth of that opposition was to be revealed in the parliament of 1593. Whitgift preached the sermon at its opening on 19 February, and he and his supporters so dominated proceedings that a Commons bill designed to combat Catholic recusants was transformed into an act, which (exceptionally in Elizabeth's reign) was directed at protestant sectaries, making them liable to banishment. This did not happen without an acrimonious struggle. In the contest between the Commons and Whitgift the separatists Henry Barrow and John Greenwood, who had been under arrest since 1588, were tried under the act against Catholics of 1581 and condemned to death for printing seditious works. Despite Burghley's remonstrations with Whitgift on their behalf, they were executed on 6 April, contemporary reports blaming the malice that the bishops had towards the Commons. Shortly afterwards John Penry, active in the Marprelate campaign, followed them to the scaffold. Whitgift's policy had begun as an attempt to remove the puritans from influence in the church through the normal processes of ecclesiastical administration; when this proved impossible he shifted his tactics, attempting to break the presbyterians by a rigorous prosecution of the leaders through the prerogative courts. By the summer of 1593 he had broken their organization and driven them underground, but in so doing he had made few friends.

Archbishop of Canterbury, 1593–1597: theological controversies

Whitgift was a convinced Calvinist in matters of doctrine, and his early career had been made expounding that characteristically Calvinist identification of the pope with Antichrist. The disputes of the 1570s and 1580s centred not on doctrine but on matters of worship and discipline, but the boundaries between these categories were porous. This became evident in 1587 in the dispute between William Whitaker, the strongly Calvinist master of St John's College, Cambridge, whose election had been forced through by Whitgift and Burghley in the face of determined opposition from some of the fellows. One of their number, Everard Digby, was a Neoplatonist whose view of human capabilities was directly at odds with the world view of Calvinists like Whitaker, who denounced him as a papist and sought to remove him from his fellowship. The charge of popery was not supported by Whitgift, but Whitaker prosecuted Digby for several breaches of college statutes. Notwithstanding Digby's wilful defiance of the master and Whitgift's earlier support for Whitaker, the archbishop urged a compromise which involved the temporary reinstatement of Digby to his fellowship. What was essentially a matter of doctrine to a Calvinist like Whitaker was a 'thing disputable' to a Calvinist like Whitgift. Yet, when central doctrines, such as predestination and assurance, were openly discussed in Cambridge, as they were between 1595 and 1597, the gap between these positions narrowed considerably, without closing entirely.

On 29 April 1595 a sermon preached in the university church by William Barrett, fellow of Caius, denied the possibility of assurance of salvation to the ordinary believer, and asserted that human sinfulness, not God's will, was the source of reprobation. Thereby advocating a sublapsarian rather than a supralapsarian position on predestination, Barrett was mounting a direct attack on the form of Calvinism dominant in the university and associated with Whitaker and others. Such views were not new, and were similar to those of the Lady Margaret professor of divinity, Peter Baro, but the sermon marked a raising of the stakes. Whether this showed the anti-Calvinists taking the offensive, or whether the sermon was a defensive response to a sermon on atonement delivered from the same pulpit by Whitaker two months earlier, is unclear; but as an offensive tactic, it was ill-judged. Barrett was forced to recant by the heads of houses, and a petition signed by fifty-six dons demanded further action against him. Barrett appealed to Whitgift, presenting himself as the victim of a puritan plot, but the heads countered in a letter accusing Barrett of popery and stressing the encouragement that would be given to papists if he went unpunished. This letter set out the stark choice between popery and reformed purity as one that transcended national concerns, and contained no acknowledgement of the autonomous traditions of the English church which had recently been given theoretical justification by Richard Hooker. Whitgift accused the heads of disregarding his authority, as archbishop, in such matters, and criticized their appeal to the authority of Calvin over that of the Thirty-Nine Articles in determining the doctrine of the English church. Faced with Whitgift's anger the heads appealed to Burghley, and then used the good offices that existed between Whitaker and the archbishop to explain their actions. Although he might disagree about the grounds on which action should be taken against Barrett, the heads were confident that, doctrinally, Whitgift was on their side and, having seen Barrett's answers to articles posed by him in September, the archbishop admitted that he agreed with them on all points except one, that concerning the granting of assurance to all the elect. The archbishop made it clear, however, that it was his authority that counted in these matters, and that orthodoxy was enshrined in the Thirty-Nine Articles before, in the end, he issued a general condemnation of Barrett's views, requiring him to retract.

Whitgift's reconciliation to the heads owed much to the intervention of his old mentor Matthew Hutton, now archbishop of York, whom Whitgift regarded as representing an older generation of English Calvinists who did not seek the more rigid applications of discipline and doctrine associated with Théodore Beza. Hutton was asked to comment on the nine articles which had been submitted to Whitgift by Whitaker and which, after some modifications by the archbishop which toned down but did not change their Calvinist orientation, were issued as the Lambeth articles on 20 November. These articles set out the Calvinist view of election and predestination as a fundamental doctrine of the English church, and Whitgift's position, following Hutton's intervention, seems to have moved closer to that of Whitaker and the heads on the central issue of justifying faith and the individual's assurance of salvation. The status of the articles was unclear and the queen disapproved, ordering them to be withheld on 5 December. In consequence they were never published and Whitgift wished them to be considered a private matter between him and the university authorities. Nevertheless, in addition to their acceptance at Cambridge, they were incorporated into the Oxford University Acts of 1596 and 1597. The puritans continued to view the articles as a vindication of their doctrinal position: at the Hampton Court conference in 1604, they sought unsuccessfully to have doctrinal status conferred on them, and the articles were subsequently adopted by the Irish church in 1615.

Despite their uncertain status the articles, in effect, set out to define in a series of numbered theses the doctrine of the English church, which had previously been a matter of tacit assumption based on the Thirty-Nine Articles. As such the articles represented a departure from Whitgift's usual position on these matters, which acknowledged a legitimate space for adiaphora or things disputable. The anti-Calvinists recognized this shift and, given the absence of royal support, a challenge to the articles was expected; it emerged on 12 January 1596 from the hitherto non-polemical Peter Baro. He claimed that the articles did not impugn his position that man, not God, was the author of sin, exploiting the ambiguity in article 4, which permitted a sublapsarian as well as a supralapsarian interpretation of predestination, and claiming that this view had a respectable pedigree in the English church going back to John Hooper and to the Thirty-Nine Articles. This aroused the opposition of the Cambridge heads, but Baro anticipated support at court and wrote directly to Whitgift on 27 January. Whitgift did not intervene on Baro's behalf but played for time, letting matters take their course. This they did and Baro, recognizing the weakness of his position within Cambridge, did not seek re-election to his chair. The events of 1595–6 represented a victory of sorts for the Calvinists, both Barrett and Baro withdrew from Cambridge, and Whitgift, encouraged by the heads, had issued an unequivocally Calvinist set of doctrinal articles, but these articles had manifestly failed to achieve doctrinal authority and had fallen foul of the queen. As such, the articles attest both to the strength of the Calvinist consensus that existed in the church, and to its limits. Whitgift and the Cambridge Calvinists might have agreed on essentials when it came to doctrine, but the degree to which those essentials should be enforced, and by whom that should be done, remained a source of contention. Two years after these events the archbishop was to be found forcing the election of the anti-Calvinist John Overall to the mastership of St Catharine's College in opposition to the Calvinist heads.

Primate and pastor

Alongside these political and theological concerns Whitgift faced the normal responsibilities of an Elizabethan prelate. While at Worcester he had proved himself a doughty defender of ecclesiastical rights and property against the laity, and he continued in this vein at Canterbury. He was a firm opponent of puritan schemes for buying up impropriations in order to augment the stipends of the poorer clergy, since this would undermine the financial position of the hierarchy and of the universities. He was fortunate in his early years at Canterbury for several leases fell due in 1584 and 1585, enabling him to derive an income of over £1000 in each of those years beyond his normal rental income. Whitgift proved an astute manager of his estate, protecting its long-term interests before his personal profit. No lengthy leases were granted, a careful husbandry of the timber on his estates maintained its value, and he preserved the demesne lands at his manors of Lambeth, Croydon, and Bekesbourne. At a period of high inflation Whitgift protected his interests, and those of the church, by making extensive use of rents in kind, which in his early years amounted to 204 fat wethers, 190 quarters of wheat, and 20 loads of hay annually, most of which was consumed within the household.

As archbishop, and with residences close to the capital, Whitgift was particularly prone to visitation by Elizabeth, who stayed with him most years. The political benefits of this relationship—it was after one successful visit that Elizabeth gave him the famous sobriquet ‘her little black husband’—had to be set against the financial cost of maintaining a large household and the criticisms that brought from puritan clergy and laity alike. Whitgift trod this narrow line adroitly. He kept a substantial household, as Martin Marprelate caustically observed, of over 100 liveried servants, including some trained captains, which he used to impress the Kentish gentry on his lavish journeys there but which he also placed at the disposal of the crown. On news of rebellion by the earl of Essex breaking in January 1601 it was Whitgift's household captains, at the head of a force of forty horsemen and forty footmen, who secured the arrest of his former pupil, taking him to Lambeth before escorting him to the Tower. His household was clearly at the service of the state and part of his public duty, but that duty went further.

The archbishop's hospitality was not confined to the rich and powerful, but also encompassed the scholarly and the poor. Paule described Whitgift's household as 'a little academy' (Paule, 98) for the lectures and ecclesiastical exercises he saw performed there, including a weekly sermon on Thursdays during term, and the archbishop provided regular support to scholars both within his houses and at the universities. His patronage extended to these younger friends; five fellows of Trinity during his time there were promoted to the episcopal bench, as were seven of his household chaplains, including Richard Bancroft, his successor at Canterbury. Other scholars, such as Lancelot Andrewes, Matthew Sutcliffe, Hugh Broughton, and Hadrian Saravia, also enjoyed his domestic patronage, as did John Stow. This mode of hospitality was easier for Whitgift, as a bachelor, than for many of his colleagues, but was significant even so. He regularly offered financial support from his own resources to Beza and the Genevan church, maintaining a correspondence into the 1590s despite his difficulties with the puritans at home and his own theological differences, and he used his rents from rectory estates to augment poor livings in his diocese. His commitment to a learned clergy is regularly attested in his visitation articles. His learning was exhibited in a personal library of over 4000 volumes, many later acquired by Bancroft, and he had books dedicated to him by scholars from across the theological spectrum, including Baro and Whitaker. In this Whitgift was the model reformed bishop, but the most arresting picture of his household is Paule's description of Christmas when archbishop and household sat down to eat with the poor. The shortages of the 1590s made the plight of the poor particularly acute and it is to this decade that Whitgift's major charitable benefaction can be traced. On 14 November 1595 he bought the site of the Checquer Inn at Croydon for £200, adding further properties soon afterwards. On 22 November he was granted a licence to found an almshouse, dedicated to the Holy Trinity, for up to forty men and women, and the first seven inmates, all former household servants, were admitted. Provision for a school followed the purchase of another site on 6 October 1596, and in 1599 building work was completed at a cost of over £2718. On 10 July 1599 the chapel was consecrated by Bancroft, and on 25 June 1600 the deed of foundation for both school and hospital, which were endowed with lands bringing an annual income of over £185, was signed and the first schoolmaster appointed. During these years the poor beyond Croydon also commanded the archbishop's attention, as it did that of government. In 1596, faced with national food shortages, Whitgift added his voice to that of the queen in asking the clergy of the province to preach in support of measures designed to ensure cheap corn, and urging the bishops to remind them and the wealthy of their duty of hospitality towards the poor.

Final years

By 1598 Whitgift, like the queen whose confidence he continued to enjoy, had become something of a survivor of a bygone stage in the English Reformation, and those looking ahead were waiting on the deaths of these old dinosaurs before returning to the unresolved conflicts in the church and its relations with the state. Whitgift could still act forcefully, as he did in the matter of Overall's appointment to St Catharine's, and decisively, as he did over the Essex rebellion, but despite his careful promotion of loyal protégés, he no longer dominated the episcopal bench to the extent he had previously. His main activity in these years was in embedding in the church those administrative reforms for which he had fought. He resisted parliamentary attempts to meddle in marriage law and in ecclesiastical fees in the parliament of 1597, treating them in convocation, and in 1601 he and Elizabeth combined to stop further debate on a bill to restrict pluralism in the church. He continued to defend the independence of the ecclesiastical courts from encroachments by the secular courts, particularly the courts of equity, and in 1600 protested about the increasing use of prohibitions in those courts to suspend proceedings in the church courts. Clerical learning remained a high priority in his various enquiries, though he was more optimistic about this than his critics, and he set up a standard table of ecclesiastical fees and tried to curb non-residence among the clergy in the canons of 1597, which were extended to the northern province as well as Canterbury.

In his official capacity, and from personal friendship, Whitgift played a key role in the events surrounding the illness and death of the queen, and was at her bedside when she died on 23 March 1603. He was chief mourner at her funeral in Westminster Abbey, receiving the offertory and the banners. He was at the council that proclaimed James VI of Scotland king, sending the dean of Canterbury to Edinburgh immediately. At James's request, he sent the new king a report on the state of the church giving details of the learning of the clergy and the state of pastoral provision, and on 25 July presided at the coronation. When James called the Hampton Court conference between the puritans and the bishops on 16 January 1604, Whitgift attended but leadership of the bishops' delegation was assumed by his former chaplain Bancroft, by now bishop of London. That James took the view of the bishops on the key issues would have been a relief to this champion of orthodoxy, but in the following month he caught cold while travelling by barge from his palace at Lambeth to visit Bancroft at Fulham about church business. A few days later he suffered a stroke while dining at Whitehall and he died at Lambeth on 29 February 1604.

Whitgift's body was carried to Croydon where on 27 March his funeral was solemnized, his former pupil at Trinity, Gervase Babington, by now the occupant of Whitgift's old see of Worcester, preaching the sermon. A recumbent effigy, showing the archbishop with his hands in prayer, marked his grave in the chapel of St Nicholas within the church, where the poor and the scholars of his foundation sat during divine service. Thomas Churchyard published a poem on his death called 'Churchyard's good will', but the controversies that dominated his life soon followed him in death through a lampoon circulated by the puritan Lewis Pickering, who quickly found himself before the Star Chamber. By his will Whitgift confirmed to his hospital and school all those lands purchased by him on their behalf; he made substantial bequests to the poor of Canterbury, Lambeth, and Croydon; he left his parchment books to Trinity College, with any duplicates they had going to Peterhouse; he gave Pembroke College his Complutensian Bible and the works of Thomas Aquinas, and left Bancroft, who was an executor, his paper books and writings, which now form part of Lambeth Palace Library; the residue of his estate he divided equally between his surviving brother and the families of three nephews and nieces.


Whitgift's reputation has been dominated by those controversies that dominated his life. To a conservative like Stow he was a 'man born for the benefit of his country and the good of his church', but to the author of the Marprelate tracts he was 'the pope of Lambehith'. From John Strype to Thomas Babington Macaulay, and down to the present, judgements on Whitgift are not far removed from their authors' position on the current state of the established church, or established religion in general. He commanded the support of the queen but was mistrusted by more internationally minded protestants on the council like Leicester and Walsingham; his uncompromising stance often exasperated Burghley, even when he shared his aims. Whitgift's conscience was difficult to deal with, and he was capable of pursuing his opponents to the utmost. Yet he had made his reputation as a preacher against the papacy in terms that many of the earlier puritans shared, and, despite his differences with them over discipline and the autonomy of the English church, he continued to share with them a concern for a learned ministry and a commitment to Calvinism. He also established one of the most munificent charitable foundations of the late sixteenth century, paying for it in his lifetime and not, like so many others, in his will. He was capable of great loyalty to some and clearly inspired affection from his chaplains and protégés, but where the rights of the church were concerned personal loyalties were ignored and compromise, even in the pursuit of peace and charity, rejected. The portraits which exist at Croydon, Lambeth, in Cambridge, and in the National Portrait Gallery reveal a dark, thin-faced individual with the severity of the administrator rather than the austerity of the scholar, so it is a surprise to discover that music seems to have played an important part in his life. His written works show a defensive cast of mind, thorough but not creative, which nevertheless laid the foundations for a theory of church–state relations that proved enduring, if not universally accepted. After the promise and hopes of the early Elizabethan church it was Whitgift's task, and perhaps his misfortune, to have to steer a path for that church through the conflicts and inconsistencies that earlier generations could ignore in pursuit of the common enemy. In that task he could not always depend on the full support of his episcopal colleagues, many of whom had more sympathy for puritans than he had, but that lack of support also owed something to his character. His personality and temperament were ill-suited to the open debate that had characterized earlier disagreements within the Reformed camp, and indeed such a strategy may not have been welcomed by his sovereign and supreme governor of the church. He fell back, therefore, on the narrow basis of the law, sometimes, as in the case of Penry and in his pursuit of Cartwright, with a vehemence that more moderate figures considered damaging to the cause he was defending. In so doing his inclusive view of the church as comprising all, and his liberal view of 'things disputable' in matters of theology, were gradually submerged beneath his authoritarian insistence on matters of ceremony and church discipline, but it is worth remembering that, in that controversy, it was his opponents who began by claiming that such things were non-negotiable.


  • G. Paule, The life of Dr John Whitgift (1612)
  • J. Strype, The life and acts of John Whitgift, new edn, 3 vols. (1822)
  • The works of John Whitgift, ed. J. Ayre, 3 vols., Parker Society (1851–3)
  • P. Lake, Moderate puritans and the Elizabethan church (1982)
  • P. Lake, Anglicans and puritans? Presbyterianism and English conformist thought from Whitgift to Hooker (1988)
  • P. Collinson, The Elizabethan puritan movement (1967)
  • J. E. Neale, Elizabeth I and her parliaments, 2 vols. (1953–7)
  • H. C. Porter, Reformation and reaction in Tudor Cambridge (1958)
  • V. J. K. Brook, Whitgift and the English church (1958)
  • P. M. Dawley, John Whitgift and the English Reformation (1954)
  • will, TNA: PRO, PROB 11/103, sig. 45
  • E. Gilliam and W. J. Tighe, ‘To “run with the time”: Whitgift and the Lambeth articles, and the politics of religious controversy in late 16th century England’, Sixteenth Century Journal, 23 (1992), 325–40
  • L. H. Carlson, ‘Archbishop Whitgift: his supporters and opponents’, Anglican and Episcopal History, 57 (1987), 285–301
  • F. H. G. Percy, History of Whitgift School (1976)
  • F. Heal, Of prelates and princes: a study of the economic and social position of the Tudor episcopate (1980)
  • W. M. Garrow, The history and antiquities of Croydon … to which is added a sketch of the life of John Whitgift (1818)
  • P. Collinson, Godly people: essays on English protestantism and puritanism (1983)
  • P. Collinson, Elizabethan essays (1994)
  • P. Collinson, Archbishop Grindal, 1519–1583: the struggle for a reformed church (1979)
  • N. Tyacke, Anti-Calvinists: the rise of English Arminianism, c.1590–1640 (1987)
  • A. F. Scott-Pearson, Thomas Cartwright and Elizabethan puritanism (1926)
  • J. S. Coolidge, The Pauline renaissance in England (1970)
  • J. F. New, Anglican and puritan: the basis of their opposition, 1558–1640 (1964)
  • S. J. Knox, Walter Travers, paragon of Elizabethan puritanism (1962)
  • M. C. Cross, The royal supremacy in the Elizabethan church (1969)
  • P. Williams, The council in the marches of Wales under Elizabeth I (1958)
  • A. Peel, ed., The seconde parte of a register, 2 vols. (1915)
  • G. Bray, ed., The Anglican canons, 1529–1947 (1998)
  • J. Mullinger, A history of Cambridge University (1888)
  • W. P. M. Kennedy, ed., Elizabethan episcopal administration, 3 vols., Alcuin Club, Collections, 25–7 (1924)
  • G. Donaldson, ‘The attitude of Whitgift and Bancroft to the Scottish church’, TRHS, 4th ser., 24 (1942), 95–115
  • APC, vols. 14–32
  • F. M. Heal, Hospitality in early modern England (1990)
  • CSP dom., 1558–1603
  • K. C. Fincham, ‘Clerical conformity from Whitgift to Laud’, Conformity and orthodoxy in the English church, c. 1560–1660, ed. P. Lake and M. Questier (2000), 125–58
  • C. Hill, Economic problems of the church from Archbishop Whitgift to the Long Parliament (1956)


  • BL, corresp. and papers, Harley MSS
  • Bodl. Oxf., letters and memoranda
  • Croydon Central Library, letters
  • Croydon Central Library, letters and indenture
  • CUL, corresp. and papers
  • Inner Temple, London, papers
  • LPL, private accounts; corresp. and papers, MSS 807, 3470–3533, 2003–2019
  • NL Scot., corresp. relating to Scotland [copies]


  • oils, 1598, CUL; copy, NPG
  • woodcut, pubd 1612 (after unknown artist), BM, NPG
  • J. Fittler, engraving
  • T. Trotter, engraving
  • G. Vertue, engraving, repro. in J. Strype, The life and acts of John Whitfgift, 3 (1822)
  • R. White, engraving
  • alabaster tomb effigy, St John the Baptist Church, Croydon, Surrey
  • oils (after oils, LPL), Trinity Cam.
  • portrait, Peterhouse, Cambridge

Wealth at Death

see will, TNA: PRO, PROB 11/103, sig. 45

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British Library, London
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Bodleian Library, Oxford
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National Archives of the United Kingdom, Public Record Office, London
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