Beard, Thomas (DNB00)


BEARD, THOMAS, D.D. (d. 1632), puritan divine, and the schoolmaster of Oliver Cromwell at Huntingdon, was, it is believed, a native of Huntingdon, but the date of his birth is unknown. He received his education at Cambridge, and probably took there his degree of D.D. On 21 Jan. 1597-8 he was collated to the rectory of Hengrave, Suffolk, which he held for a very short time. Not very long afterwards Beard became master of Huntingdon hospital and grammar school. It was at this school that Cromwell was educated in the early years of the seventeenth century. In a letter dated 25 March 1614, in the Cottonian MSS. (Julius, C. iii.), Beard asks Sir Robert Cotton for the rectory of Conington, being tired of the painful occupation of teaching. In 1625-6, as we learn from an indenture, made 23 March, between 'the bailifs and burgesses of the town of Huntingdon, patrons of the hospital of St. John in Huntingdon, of the one part, and Thomas Beard, doctor in divinity, and master of the said hospital, and Robert Cook of Huntingdon, gentleman, of the other part,' Beard was holding a lectureship at Huntingdon, and his puritan zeal in his mastership and preaching had given great satisfaction to the townspeople. 'All the said parishes and town of Huntington were,' runs the document, 'for a long time before the said Thomas Beard became master of the said hospital, utterly destitute of a learned preacher to teach and instruct them in the word of God; but sithence the said Thomas Beard became master of the said hospital, being admitted thereunto by the presentation of the said bailifs and burgesses, the said Thomas Beard hath not only maintained a grammar school in the said town, according to the foundation of the said hospital, by himself, and a schoolmaster by him provided at his own charges, but hath also been continually resident in the said town, and painfully preached the word of God in the said town of Huntington on the Sabbath-day duly, to the great comfort of the inhabitants of the said town' (Add. MS. British Museum, 15665, p. 126; Sanford's Studies and Illustrations of the Great Rebellion, 1858, pp. 240-1). In 1633 Laud, then archbishop, succeeded in putting the lectureship down.

In 1628, when the Bishop of Winchester (Neile), who, while Bishop of Lincoln, had been Beard's diocesan, was accused before the House of Commons of anti-puritan practices, Beard was summoned as a witness against him. According to Cromwell's speech in the debate on the subject, Beard had been appointed in 1617 to preach a sermon on the Sunday after Easter in London, in which, according to custom, he was to recapitulate three sermons previously preached before the lord mayor from an open pulpit in Spital Square. Dr. Alabaster was the preacher whom Beard had to follow, and so far from agreeing to repeat Alabaster's sermons, he announced his intention of exposing his support of certain 'tenets of popery.' Thereupon,' Cromwell continued, 'the new Bishop of Winton, then Bishop of Lincoln, did send for. Dr. Beard and charge him, as his diocesan, not to preach any doctrine contrary to that which Alablaster had delivered. And when Dr. Beard did, by the advice of Bishop Felton, preach against Dr. Alablaster's sermon and person, Dr. Neile, now Bishop of Winton, did reprehend him, the said Beard, for it' (Gardiner's History (1884), vii. 55-6). Before Beard could give his 'testimony from his own lips,' the parliament was dissolved.

In 1630 he was made a justice of peace for the county. He was married, and had issue. In the parish registers of Huntingdon are entries of his own and of his wife's death 'Mr. Thomas Beard, Doctor of Divinity, was buried 10 January 1631[-2],' and 'Mrs. Mary Beard, widow, 9 December 1642.' She seems to have been a Mary Heriman, and to have been married 9 July 1628. Brayley (in his Beauties of England and Wales, vii. 354) gives the inscription on a brass in the nave of All Saints Church, Huntingdon, to Dr. Beard's memory: 'Ego Thomas Beard, Sacræ Theologiæ Professor: In Ecclesia Omnium Sanctorum Huntingtoniæ Verbi Divini Predicator olim: Jam sanus sum: Obiit Januarii 8o, an. 1631.'

Beard's earliest and most famous book first appeared in 1597. Its title-page runs thus: 'The Theatre of Gods Iudgements; or, a Collection of Histories out of Sacred, Ecclesiastical, and Prophane Authors, concerning the admirable Iudgements of God upon the transgressours of his commandements. Translated out of French, and avgmented by more than three hundred Examples, by Th. Beard. London, printed by Adam Islip,' 8vo. It was in the 'Theatre of Iudgement' that first appeared the tragical account of Christopher Marlowe's death. Other editions followed in 1612 and 1631, with additions. A fourth edition in folio of 1648 is well known. In 1625 he published 'Antichrist the Pope of Rome; or the Pope of Rome is Antichrist. Proved in two treatises. In the first, by a full definition of Antichrist, by a plain application of his definition agreeing with the pope, by the weaknesse of the arguments of Bellarmine, Florimond, Raymond, and others, which are here fully answered,' 4to. Beard left in manuscript an 'Evangelical Tragoedie: or, A Harmonie of the Passion of Christ, according to the four Evangelistes' (Royal MS., 17 D. xvii; Casley's Cat. of MSS. of the King's Library, 270). A full-length portrait of Beard is prefixed to the only other literary production of his calling for notice, viz. 'Pedantius, Comœdia olim Cantab, acta in Coll. Trin. nunquam ante hæc typis evulgata,' 1631.

[Brook's Lives of the Puritans, ii. 396-7; Carlyle's Cromwell; Hunter's MS. Chorus Vatum in Brit. Mus.; Huntingdon Register.]

A. B. G.