Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Ainsworth, Henry
AINSWORTH, HENRY (1571–1622 or 1623), leader of the separatist congregation at Amsterdam, and controversialist, was, according to the Lancashire historians, one of an old family in that county, and is usually stated to have been born at Pleasington about 1560. The real date of his birth is 1571, and nothing very certain is known as to his birthplace and parentage. According to Baines and Abram, his father, Lawrence Ainsworth, who married Dorothy, daughter of Thomas Grimshaw, of Clayton, was one of the original governors of Blackburn grammar school, which was founded in 1567. Here, it is conjectured, Henry received the earlier part of his education. He was left an orphan at the age of thirteen. He is said to have proceeded to the university of Cambridge; but his name is not to be found in the ‘Athenæ Cantabrigienses.’ Dexter has pointed out a passage in Roger Williams which militates against the supposition that he was a graduate: ‘That most despised (while living) and now much honoured Mr. Ainsworth had scarce his peere amongst a thousand academicians, and yet he scarce set foot within a colledge walls.’
Ainsworth was a fine type of the Elizabethan puritan—learned, sincere, earnest, and uncompromising. He attached himself to those who were styled ‘Brownists,’ who, under the name of ‘Independents,’ afterwards played so important a part in English history, and who were the ancestors of the ‘Congregationalists’ and other free churches of the present time. Their essential distinction was the claim that each church or congregation should be a religious republic, regulating its own affairs in entire independence of state control, whether episcopal or presbyterian. A vigorous persecution was directed against these sectaries, and their founder is said eventually to have reverted to the church of England; but some of his followers went into exile rather than recognise the right of the secular power to dictate in such a matter. Ainsworth, about 1593, entered into the service of a bookseller at Amsterdam as a porter. Of this period it is said by Roger Williams that ‘he lived upon ninepence a week and some boiled roots.’ In 1596 he became ‘teacher’ of the church of which Francis Johnson was minister. According to one account Ainsworth came from Ireland to the Netherlands (Dexter, p. 269). Here his powers as a Hebraist were discovered and brought into play. There were other exiles in the city, and Ainsworth, together with Francis Johnson, founded an independent church, and in 1596 was the author, wholly or in part, of the ‘Confession of Faith of the People called Brownists.’ The task of organising the new church was not an easy one. Amsterdam was a city of refuge for the persecuted and the destitute, and the three hundred members of the church included some who did not reflect much credit upon it. They were not regarded with favour either by the divines or magistrates of the Netherlands, and even their application to Francis Junius, then professor of divinity at Leyden, had but a lukewarm answer. Objects of persecution at home and of suspicion in exile, they added to the difficulties of the situation by internal dissension. Johnson had married a rich widow, whose fashionable attire gave offence to some of the congregation, and amongst others to the pastor's father and brother. Dexter has given a full account of this odd controversy, in which Ainsworth appears to have acted in a very conciliatory spirit. One of the objections to the lady was that in her dress she had ‘bodies tied to the petticote with points as men do their doublets and their hose, contrary to 1 Thess. v. 22, conferred with Deut. xxii. 5 and 1 John ii. 16’! John Robinson, the pastor of the American pilgrim fathers, retired to Leyden to escape from the contentions of the faithful in Amsterdam, where a further secession was headed by John Smyth, a former minister of a separatist church in Lincolnshire, whose Arminian views led to an animated controversy. The third separation in the Amsterdam society was the result of a controversy between Johnson the pastor and Ainsworth the teacher of the church. The chief point in dispute was as to the exercise of the power of the church and the true meaning of Matt. xviii. 17. Ainsworth's view was that the power of excommunication belonged to the congregation as a whole, and was not to be used by the elders or officers alone. After many efforts at reconciliation on the part of Ainsworth, he and his friends finally withdrew in December 1610, and the scoffers were soon able to point to the two congregations, whom they styled respectively Franciscan Brownists and Ainsworthian Brownists. Subsequently there was a lawsuit for the possession of the original building. This was brought, not by Ainsworth or by his company collectively, but by some individuals. The decision is unknown; but it appears to have gone against Johnson, who with his friends removed to Emden.
Ainsworth was now minister for twelve years. This was a busy time; for, in addition to the work of the pastoral office, he wrote a lengthy series of controversial and exegetical works. Many of these are now rare, and in the following list those to be found in the British Museum are indicated by the addition of B. M.: 1. ‘A True Confession of the Faith and humble acknowledgment of the Alegeance which her Majestie's subjects, falsely called Brownists, do hould,’ &c., 1596, 1602. 2. ‘Apology or Defence of such Christians as are commonly but unjustly called Brownists,’ Amst. 1604. This is a joint work with F. Johnson. There were Dutch translations in 1612 and 1670. 3. ‘Certayne questions concerning (i.) silk or wool in the High Priest's Ephod; (ii.) Idol Temples, commonly called Churches; (iii.) the forme of prayer commonly called the Lord's Prayer; (iv.) Excommunication, &c., handled between H. Broughton and Henry Ainsworth,’ London, 1605. (B.M.) 4. ‘Answer to Mr. Stone's Sermon,’ 1605. This has disappeared, but is mentioned in Lawne's ‘Brownisme turned the Inside Outward,’ London, 1613. (B.M.) 5. The ‘Communion of Saincts; a treatise of the Fellowship that the Faithful have with God and his Angels, and one with another, in the present life. Gathered out of the Holy Scriptures by H. A.’ Reprinted in the year 1615 (B.M.), 1628; Nova Belgia, 1640 (B.M.), 1641; Aberdeen, 1844. Dexter thinks this was first issued in 1607. 6. ‘An Arrow against Idolatrie by H. A.,’ 1611 (B.M.), 1617, 1624, 1640 (B.M.) 7. ‘Counter-poyson: Considerations touching the points in difference between the godly ministers of the Church of England, and the seduced Brethren of the Separation; Arguments that the best Assemblies of the present Church of England are true Visible Churches; that the Preachers in the best Assemblies of England are true Ministers of Christ; Mr. Bernard's book, entitled the “Separatists' Schism”; Mr. Crawshaw's questions propounded in his Sermons preached at the Cross. Examined and answered by H. A.,’ 1608 (B.M.), 1612, 1642 (B.M.) 8. ‘An Epistle sent unto two Daughters of Warwick from H. N. [Henry Nicholas], the oldest father of the Familie of Love. With A Refutation of the Errors that are therein by H. A.,’ Amsterdam, 1608. (B.M.) 9. ‘A Defence of the Holy Scriptures, Worship, and Ministry used in the Christian Churches seperated from Anti-christ, against the challenges, cavils, and contradictions of M. Smyth, in his book entitled “The Differences of the Churches of the Separation.” Hereunto are annexed a few animadversions upon some of M. Smyth's censures, in his answer made to M. Bernard, by Henry Ainsworth, teacher of the English exiled Church at Amsterdam. Imprinted at Amsterdam by Giles Thorp,’ 1609. (B.M.) 10. ‘The Booke of Psalmes, englished both in Prose and Metre; with Annotations opening the words and sentences by conference with other Scriptures, by Henry Ainsworth, Ept. v. 18, 19. Amsterdam, printed,’ &c. 1612 (B.M.), 1617 (B.M.), 1626, 1639, 1644 (B.M.) 11. ‘An Animadversion to Mr. Richard Clifton's Advertisement, who, under pretence of answering Chr. Laune's book, hath published another man's private Letter, with Mr. Francis Johnson's Answer thereto. Which letter is here justified, the answer thereto refuted, and the true causes of the lamentable breach that hath lately fallen out in the English exiled Church at Amsterdam manifested. Imprinted at Amsterdam by Giles Thorp,’ 1613. (B.M.) 12. ‘Annotations upon the first book of Moses called Genesis,’ 1616, 1621. 13. ‘Annotations upon the second book of Moses called Exodus,’ 1617, 1626. 14. ‘Annotations upon the third book of Moses called Leviticus,’ 1618, 1626. 15. ‘Annotations upon the fourth book of Moses called Numbers,’ 1619. (B.M) 16. ‘Annotations upon the fifth book of Moses called Deuteronomie,’ 1619. (B.M.) 17. ‘Annotations upon the five books of Moses,’ 1619, 1621, 1626, 1627 (B.M.), 1639 (B.M.) 18. ‘Annotations upon the five books of Moses, the Psalms, and the Song of Songs,’ London, 1627, 1639. A Dutch translation 1690, German translation 1692. 19. ‘The Trying out of the Truth, begun and prosequuted in certain letters and passages between John Aynsworth and Henry Aynsworth: the one pleading for, the other against, the present religion of the Church of Rome. The chief things here handled are: (i.) of God's Word and Scriptures, whether they be sufficient rule of our fayth; (ii.) of the Scriptures expounded by the Church, and of unwriten tradition; (iii.) of the Church of Rome, whether it be the trewe Catholic Church, and her sentence to be received as the certayne truth. Published for the good of others by E. P. in the year 1615.’ (B.M.) This is an interesting memorial of the religious controversy of the Elizabethan age. John Ainsworth, who had abjured Anglicanism, and was imprisoned in London as a recusant, put forth a challenge to a written debate, and invited Henry Ainsworth to notice this cartel. In the reply to this the Brownist minister, writing from Amsterdam, refers to his opponent as ‘in nation and in name, and I know not whether also for nearer alliance, being meet.’ Four letters by the disputants were addressed to each other, and in the published volume Henry Ainsworth ends with a short reply. The discussion extended from 1609 to 1613. It has been said that John and Henry were brothers, but of this there is no evidence. The letters on the whole are remarkable for the earnestness and yet friendly spirit of the disputants in an age when religious controversy was apt to be bitterly personal. The answers of John Ainsworth and twenty-one other priests in Newgate, 20 March 1614, as to the doctrine of allegiance, will be found in Tierney's edition of Dodd's ‘Church History of England,’ iv. p. cciv. 20. ‘A Reply to the pretended Christian Plea for the Anti-christian Church of Rome, published by Francis Johnson, A.D. 1617. Wherein the weakness of the said Plea is manifested, and arguments alleged for the Church of Rome, and Baptisme therein, are refuted, anno 1618. Printed in the year 1620.’ (B.M.) 21. ‘Solomon's Song of Songs in English metre,’ 1623, 1626. 22. ‘A Seasonable Discourse; or, a Censure upon a Dialogue of the Anabaptists, entitled “A Description of what God hath predestinated concerning man,”’ 1623, 1642 (B.M.), 1643 (B.M.), 1645, 1651. 23. ‘Certain Notes of Mr. Henry Aynsworth, his last Sermon. Taken by pen in the publique delivery by one of his flock a little before his death, anno 1622. Published now at last by the said writer as a love token of remembrance to his brethren, to inkindle their affections to prayer, that scandalls (of manie years continuance) may be removed, that are barrs to keep back manie godly wise and judicious from us, whereby, we might grow to further perfection again. Imprinted 1630.’ The preface is signed Sabine Staresmore. The text is 1 Peter ii. 4. 24. ‘Advertisement touching some Objections against the Sincerity of the Hebrew Text, and the allegations of the Rabbins in his Annotations,’ 1639. This, although believed to have been printed separately, is included in the Annotations on the Pentateuch. It arose out of an attack by John Paget, minister of the English Reformed Church at Amsterdam, who took offence at the admission of a woman as member of Ainsworth's congregation who had previously belonged to Paget's church. 25. ‘The Old Orthodox Foundation of Religion. Long since collected by that judicious and eloquent man, Mr. Henry Ainsworth, for the benefit of his private company, and now divulged for the publicke of all that desire to know that corner-stone, Jesus Christ. By S. W.’ London, 1641 (B.M.), 1653 (B.M.). The name of the editor, Samuel White, appears at the end of the preface. Whilst not agreeing with Ainsworth's ‘preposterous zeale in the point and practise of Separation,’ yet as an eye-witness of his life in Amsterdam he praises his ‘humility, sobriety, and discretion,’ and declares that ‘hee lived and died unblameable to the world,’ except in one point, which to many is a strong testimony of Ainsworth's love of the truth. 26. ‘Two Treatises. The first, Of the Communion of Saints; the second entitled An Arrow against Idolatry, &c. To this edition is prefixed some account of the life and writings of the author [by Dr. Stuart].’ Edinb. 1789. (B.M.) 27. ‘Annotations upon the Pentateuch, Psalms, and Song of Solomon, with a Memoir of the Author,’ 2 vols., Glasgow, 1843. (B.M.)
W. Bartlett, writing in 1647, speaks of a ‘large treatise’ by Ainsworth entitled ‘Guide to Zion.’ This is not otherwise known, and may perhaps be a mistaken reference to ‘Syon's Prerogative Royal,’ which appeared in 1641, and, though without name, is regarded as the work of Ainsworth's successor, John Canne. It is, however, not what even now we should call a large treatise, and is but a lilliputian specimen of the powers of the theologians of the seventeenth century. The foregoing list will show that Henry Ainsworth was a busy and voluminous writer, both as controversialist and as commentator. He did not even disdain the muses; but his versification is of the baldest. The curious in hymnology who consult his ‘Annotations’ upon Exodus xv. will find the music to which his ‘Song of Moses’ was sung by the little church at Amsterdam. Of the Canticles he executed a metrical version. He had not the faintest breath of poetical inspiration. It is perhaps worth noting that William Ainsworth, described as lecturer at St. Peter's, Chester, wrote ‘Medulla Bibliorum: the Marrow of the Bible . . . together with so many English poems containing the contents of every chapter,’ which appeared in 1652.
Henry Ainsworth left behind him a large quantity of manuscripts, which appear to have been dispersed. This is known from a passage in one of Dr. John Worthington's letters, in which he bears an emphatic testimony both to the character and attainments of Henry Ainsworth. ‘There is another author, whose remains are most worthy to be retrieved—I mean Mr. Ainsworth, whose excellent annotations upon the Pentateuch, &c. sufficiently discover his great learning and his most exact observation of the proper idioms of the holy text, with every iota and tittle of which he seems to be as much acquainted as any of the Masoreths of Tiberias.’ Dr. Worthington goes on to mention works on Hosea, Matthew, and the Epistles to the Hebrews, which Ainsworth had left, but which, owing to some difficulty as to price or copyright between Ainsworth's son and his successor, John Canne, had not been printed. The value of Ainsworth's exegetical writings has been attested by Cotton, Doddridge, Calmet, Poole, and Clarke. Time has not entirely destroyed the value of his annotations; for they have been found helpful to the company of Old Testament revisers (Dexter, p. 342). His character was that of a modest, amiable, and conciliatory man, acting with moderation under difficult circumstances, unwilling to enter upon controversy, and yet not shrinking from it when duty called. Perhaps his greatest service to English nonconformity was the establishment of a tradition of learning and culture. Even those of the world who despised the sectary admired the scholar whose acquirements in rabbinical and oriental literature—as it was then understood—were equalled by few in Europe. This combination led Moreri and others to suppose that Henry Ainsworth the annotator and Henry Ainsworth the Brownist were distinct individuals.
Dexter has shown that Henry Ainsworth, who is described as a minister, thirty-six years of age and from Swanton, married Margery Halie, from Ipswich, widow of Richard Appelbey, 29 March 1607. He also quotes a passage from Paget—certainly an unscrupulous and biassed witness—who declares that Ainsworth was originally a member of the church of England—as, indeed, he must have been—separated from her, then in London rejoined her communion, but left her, and once more, when in Ireland, ‘and in some danger for your scandall,’ at least nominally resumed his allegiance. Even if there were any wavering in Ainsworth's youth, which is by no means certain, yet during all the period of his public life from 1596 to his death we find him constant to the despised and unpopular form of Christianity which he had adopted.
Before his death Ainsworth for a time left Amsterdam and revisited Ireland, but returned to his city of exile, where he died late in 1622 or early in 1623. Neal has given a strange narration of his death, which, if too absurd for credence, is too circumstantial to be omitted. ‘His death,’ he says, ‘was sudden, and not without suspicion of violence; for it is reported that, having found a diamond of very great value in the streets of Amsterdam, he advertised it in print, and when the owner, who was a Jew, came to demand it, he offered him any acknowledgment he would desire; but Ainsworth, though poor, would accept of nothing but a conference with some of his rabbies upon the prophecies of the Old Testament relating to the Messiah, which the other promised, but not having interest enough to obtain it, 'tis thought that he was poisoned.’ Brook's version is that the conference took place, and the champion of Christianity was poisoned by his defeated antagonists.[Works of John Robinson, Pastor of the Pilgrim Fathers, London, 1851 ; Two Treatises by Henry Ainsworth (with some account of the life and writings of the author), Edinburgh, 1789; Neal's History of the Puritans, ii. 43; Brook's Lives of the Puritans, ii. 299; Abram's History of Blackburn, Blackburn, 1877; Baxter's Congregationalism of the Last Three Hundred Years, 1880 (containing, at p. 296, a facsimile of Henry Ainsworth's signature); Baines's Lancashire; Halley's Lancashire Puritanism; British Museum General Catalogue.]