|Archbishop of Canterbury|
|Term ended||29 February 1604|
Great Grimsby, Lincolnshire, England
|Died||29 February 1604 (aged 73/74)
Lambeth, Surrey, England
John Whitgift (c. 1530 – 29 February 1604) was the Archbishop of Canterbury from 1583 to his death. Noted for his hospitality, he was somewhat ostentatious in his habits, sometimes visiting Canterbury and other towns attended by a retinue of 800 horses. Whitgift's theological views were often controversial.
Making of a High Churchman
He was the eldest son of Henry Whitgift, a merchant, of Great Grimsby, Lincolnshire, where he was born, probably between 1530 and 1533. His early education was entrusted to his uncle, Robert Whitgift, abbot of the neighbouring monastery of Wellow, on whose advice he was sent to St Anthony's School, London. In 1549 he matriculated at Queens' College, Cambridge, and in May 1550 he moved to Pembroke Hall, where the martyr John Bradford was his tutor. In May 1555 he became a fellow of Peterhouse.
Links with Cambridge
Having taken holy orders in 1560, he became chaplain to Richard Cox, Bishop of Ely, who collated him to the rectory of Teversham, Cambridgeshire. In 1563 he was appointed Lady Margaret's Professor of Divinity at Cambridge, and his lectures gave such satisfaction to the authorities that on 5 July 1566 they considerably augmented his stipend. The following year he was appointed Regius Professor of Divinity, and became master first of Pembroke Hall and then of Trinity. He had a principal share in compiling the statutes of the university, which passed the great seal on 25 September 1570, and in the November following he was chosen as vice-chancellor.
Promotions and improvements
Whitgift's theological views were controversial. An aunt with whom he once lodged wrote that “though she thought at first she had received a saint into her house, she now perceived he was a devil”. Macaulay's description of Whitgift as "a narrow, mean, tyrannical priest, who gained power by servility and adulation," is rhetorical and exaggerated, but undoubtedly Whitgift's High Church beliefs led him to treat the Puritans intolerantly. In a pulpit controversy with Thomas Cartwright regarding the constitutions and customs of the Church of England, his oratorical effectiveness proved inferior, but was able to exercise arbitrary authority: together with other heads of the university, he deprived Cartwright of his professorship, and in September 1571 Whitgift exercised his prerogative as master of Trinity to deprive him of his fellowship. In June of the same year Whitgift was nominated Dean of Lincoln. In the following year he published An Answere to a Certain Libel entitled an Admonition to the Parliament, which led to further controversy between the two churchmen. On 24 March 1577, Whitgift was appointed Bishop of Worcester, and during the absence of Sir Henry Sidney in Ireland in 1577 he acted as vice-president of Wales.
Archbishop of Canterbury, 1583-1604
In August 1583 he was appointed Archbishop of Canterbury to replace Edmund Grindal, who had been placed under house arrest after his disagreement with Queen Elizabeth over 'prophesyings' and died in office. Whitgift placed his stamp on the church of the Reformation, and shared Elizabeth's hatred of Puritans. Although he wrote to Elizabeth remonstrating against the alienation of church property, Whitgift always retained her special confidence. In his policy against the Puritans and in his vigorous enforcement of the subscription test he thoroughly carried out the her policy of religious uniformity.
He drew up articles aimed at nonconforming ministers, and obtained increased powers for the Court of High Commission. In 1586 he became a privy councillor. His actions gave rise to the Martin Marprelate tracts, in which the bishops and clergy were strongly opposed. Through Whitgift's vigilance the printers of the tracts were discovered and punished, and to prevent the publication of such opinions he had the Act against Seditious Sectaries passed in 1593, making Puritanism an offence. In the controversy between Walter Travers and Richard Hooker he prohibited the former from preaching, and he presented the latter with the rectory of Boscombe in Wiltshire, to help him complete his Ecclesiastical Polity, a work that in the end did not represent Whitgift's theological or ecclesiastical standpoints.
In 1595, in conjunction with the Bishop of London and other prelates, he drew up the Calvinistic instrument known as the Lambeth Articles. Although the articles were signed and agreed by several bishops they were recalled by order of Elizabeth, claiming that the bishops had acted without her explicit consent. Whitgift maintained that she had given her approval.
He died at Lambeth the following February. He was buried in Croydon at the Parish Church of St John Baptist (now Croydon Minster): his monument there with his recumbent effigy was practically destroyed when the church burnt down in 1867.
Whitgift is described by his biographer, Sir George Paule, as of "middle stature, strong and well shaped, of a grave countenance and brown complexion, black hair and eyes, his beard neither long nor thick." He left several unpublished works, included in the Manuscripts Angliae. Many of his letters, articles and injunctions are calendared in the published volumes of the "State Paper" series of the reign of Elizabeth. His Collected Works, edited for the Parker Society by John Ayre (3 vols., Cambridge, 1851–1853), include the controversial tracts mentioned above, two sermons published during his lifetime, a selection from his letters to Cecil and others, and some portions of his previously unpublished manuscripts.
Whitgift set up a charitable foundation, now The Whitgift Foundation, in Croydon, the site of a palace, a summer retreat of Archbishops of Canterbury. It supports homes for the elderly and infirm, and runs three independent schools – Whitgift School, founded in 1596, Trinity School of John Whitgift and, more recently, Old Palace School for girls, which is housed in the former palace.
A comprehensive school in his home town of Grimsby is named after him.
- Life of Whitgift by Sir George Paule, 1612, 2nd ed. 1649. It was embodied by John Strype in his Life and Acts of Whitgift (1718).
- A life included in Wordsworth's Ecclesiastical Biography (1810)
- W. F. Hook, Archbishops of Canterbury (1875)
- Vol. i. of Whitgift's Collected Works
- C. H. Cooper, Athenae Cantabrigienses.
- The Master of Trinity at Trinity College, Cambridge
- This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press.
- The Life and Acts of John Whitgift, D.D., Volume I by John Strype (1822 ed.)
- The Life and Acts of John Whitgift, D.D., Volume II by John Strype (1822 ed.)
- The Life and Acts of John Whitgift, D.D., Volume III by John Strype (1822 ed.)
- The Whitgift Foundation
- Timeline of the Whitgift Foundation
- The Whitgift Foundation, Registered Charity no. 312612 at the Charity Commission
|Regius Professor of Divinity at Cambridge
|Master of Pembroke College, Cambridge
|Master of Trinity College, Cambridge
|Church of England titles|
|Bishop of Worcester
|Archbishop of Canterbury