Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Cartwright, Thomas (1535-1603)

CARTWRIGHT, THOMAS (1535–1603), described by Strype (Annals, ii. i. c. 1) as ‘the head and most learned of that sect of dissenters then called puritans,’ was a native of Hertfordshire, but his place of birth is not recorded. He was sent very young to Cambridge, where he was first entered as a sizar at Clare Hall, matriculating in November 1547. On 5 Nov. 1550 he was elected to a scholarship at St. John's College. The college was conspicuous for its attachment to the new doctrines of the reformation, and on the accession of Queen Mary, Cartwright, in common with most of those who refused to revert to catholicism, was compelled to quit the university. He obtained employment as a clerk to a counsellor-at-law, an experience which he is said to have subsequently turned to account, owing to the skill in dialectical fence which he acquired from his study of the common law. On the death of Queen Mary, the reformers returned to Cambridge in triumph. Among the most eminent of the Marian exiles was Dr. James Pilkington, who was now made master of St. John's, and to whose influence the growth of those puritan principles by which the university shortly after became distinguished is largely attributable. He is said to have already discerned Cartwright's remarkable promise and abilities, and to have facilitated his readmission into the college. From St. John's Cartwright removed in 1560 to Trinity College, but immediately after (6 April) returned to the former society on his election to a fellowship on the Lady Margaret foundation. In the same year he commenced M.A., and 16 Jan. 1562 was appointed junior dean of the college. In April 1562 he returned to Trinity College as a major fellow, and not long after was elected a member of the seniority, or governing body. These successive changes may be interpreted as evidence of his reputation for ability and learning, both colleges apparently having been desirous of securing his services. He was already known in the university as an eloquent preacher, a rising theological scholar, and an able disputant; and, owing to his skill in this last-named capacity, he was elected to take part in a theological disputation held in the presence of Queen Elizabeth on the occasion of her visit to the university in 1564 (printed in Nichols's Progr. Eliz. iii. 66–8). It is asserted by Sir George Paule (Life of Whitgift, pp. 9–10) that Elizabeth showed a marked preference for Cartwright's antagonist in the disputation (the eminent John Preston), and that the former from that time cherished resentful feelings, which ultimately led him ‘to kick against her ecclesiastical government.’ This statement would appear, however, to be deserving of but little credit.

Nearly all the colleges, at that time, were distracted by the disputes between the defenders of the newly established Anglican discipline and theology and the supporters of the opposed conceptions derived from the discipline and doctrine of Geneva. In 1565 the fellows and scholars of St. John's, to the number of nearly three hundred, appeared in the college chapel without their surplices, and their example was shortly after followed at Trinity. This latter breach of discipline is attributed by one writer (Paule, Life of Whitgift, p. 12) to the effect produced by three sermons preached in the college chapel by Cartwright. Hitherto, the puritanical tendency had been restricted to such matters as the use of vestments, the posture to be observed at different parts of religious services, &c.; but under Cartwright's influence, questions now began to be raised which affected the whole church organisation.

It may have been partly in order to escape from the contentions which he had done so much to evoke that he retired in 1565 to Ireland. Another fellow of Trinity, Adam Loftus, had been appointed archbishop of Armagh, and Cartwright accompanied him as his chaplain. They held the same theological views, and when, in March 1567, Loftus was raised to the see of Dublin, he took occasion strongly to urge that Cartwright should be appointed his successor in the see of Armagh. In a letter written 5 Dec. 1567 he declares that Cartwright had ‘used hym self so godly, during his abode with me in Ireland, bothe in lyfe and doctryne, that his absence from hence is no small greef and sorowe to all the godly and faythfull heare’ (Shirley, Original Letters, &c., p. 322). It would appear from this letter that Cartwright had left Ireland in the course of 1567. On his return to Cambridge, we hear of him associating on terms of intimacy with Rud. Cevallerius, the professor of Hebrew, and the youthful Jo. Drusius (Curiander, Vita Jo. Drusii, p. 4). The recommendation of Loftus was not acted upon, but in 1569 Cartwright was appointed Lady Margaret professor in the university, and both in the chair and in the university pulpit he now began to criticise and denounce the constitution and hierarchy of the English church, comparing them with those of the primitive christian organisations. In his lectures, when expounding the first two chapters of the Acts of the Apostles, his comments were directed to similar conclusions. He was answered from the pulpit by Whitgift, but in oratorical power Cartwright was generally acknowledged to be the superior. St. Mary's was thronged with excited listeners, and the party which sympathised with his views was probably at this time numerically the strongest in the university. The authorities foreboded, not without reason, the development of a controversy and fresh dissensions which would prove fatal to the peace of the academic community. Among those who severely censured Cartwright's conduct were men of known moderation and learning, such as William Chaderton, his predecessor in the professorial chair, and Grindal, archbishop of York. The remonstrances addressed to Cecil, the chancellor of the university, were so strong that he was roused to unwonted decisiveness of action, and addressed to the authorities a letter which was read in the Regent House on 29 June 1570. It was the same day that Cartwright was a candidate for the degree of D.D., and his supporters fearing that the decision of the caput, or governing body, would be adverse to him, non-placeted their election, which at that time took place on the assembling of every congregation. The vice-chancellor, Dr. May, retaliated by taking upon himself to veto Cartwright's degree. Both Cartwright and his opponents now appealed again to Cecil, the former, in justification of his conduct, alleging that he was altogether adverse from any disposition to sedition and contention, and taught nothing which did not naturally flow from the text he treated, although he did not deny that he had pointed out that the ministry of the church had deviated in discipline and practice from the ancient primitive model, and that he would gladly see a return from this departure (Strype, Annals, ii. i. Append. No. 1). His opponents, on the other hand, maintained that the manner in which he had inveighed against the Anglican method of choosing the ministers of the church, and against the dignities of archbishops, deans, archdeacons, &c., as impious and unscriptural, was imperilling the English church itself, and required to be summarily suppressed. At nearly the same time, a memorial in Cartwright's favour, signed by eighteen influential members of the university (among the names are those of Rob. Some, Ri. Greenham, Ri. Howland, George Joy, and Jo. Still), was forwarded to Cecil, testifying to Cartwright's character as ‘ a pattern of piety and uprightness,’ and also to his attainments; although, says the document, as a Greek, Latin, or Hebrew scholar, he is not without his equals in the university, in his combined knowledge of the three languages he is without a rival. Moved by these representations, Cecil, early in August, addressed to the academic heads a letter enjoining abstention, on the part of both parties, from all reference to the questions which Cartwright had raised (ib. i. ii. c. 57).

It was at this juncture that the great revolution was effected in the constitution of the university which resulted from the introduction of the Elizabethan statutes. The powers thus given to the caput were more extensive, and less liable to be controlled by the general body; and by virtue of this increase in their authority, the heads, led by Whitgift (who had succeeded May as vice-chancellor), deprived Cartwright of his professorship (December 1570). Following up this step, Whitgift (who had now succeeded to the mastership of Trinity) deprived Cartwright of his fellowship (September 1571), his ostensible reason for the measure being that Cartwright was not, as required by the college statutes, in priest's orders, a pretext which the latter denounced as ‘a mere cavil.’

Cartwright now quitted England, and betook himself to Geneva, where Beza had succeeded Calvin as rector of the university. Beza is said to have pronounced Cartwright inferior in learning to no living scholar, but that the latter filled a chair of divinity at Geneva is a statement resting solely on the authority of Martin Marprelate (An Epitome, &c., p. 52). His Cambridge friends, among whom were men like Lever, Wyburn, Fulke, and Edward Dering, were extremely reluctant that such a scholar should be lost to the university, and at their pressing instance he returned to England in November 1572. Dering petitioned Lord Burghley that his friend might be appointed professor of Hebrew in succession to Cevallerius, and had it not been for his own impolitic conduct, Cartwright's return, both to the university and to office, would probably have been effected. In 1572, however, the famous ‘Admonition to the Parliament’ (the work of two London clergymen, John Field and Thomas Wilcox) appeared. It declared open warfare against all dignities, whether in the church or in the universities, and, together with the literature to which it gave rise, is generally considered to mark the point of departure of the puritan movement, its main object being to induce the legislature to assimilate the English church organisation to the presbyterian standard. The authors were both committed to prison; but their views and mode of enforcing them so closely coincided with Cartwright's, that he did not scruple to express his sympathy, to visit them in prison, and to support their arguments by writing ‘A Second Admonition to the Parliament.’ To both these ‘Admonitions’ Whitgift published a reply, to which Cartwright rejoined by writing ‘A Replye to an Answere made of M. Doctor Whitegifte, agaynst the Admonition to the Parliament. By T. C——’ (n. d.) This controversy, in itself sufficiently memorable, is rendered still more noteworthy by the fact that it was the proximate cause of the composition of Hooker's ‘Ecclesiastical Polity’ (see pref. to Eccl. Polity, sect. 2).

On 11 June 1573 a royal proclamation enjoined the suppression of both the ‘Admonition’ and its ‘Defence,’ and on 11 Dec. the court of high commission issued a warrant for Cartwright's arrest. He again left the country, resorting in the first instance to Heidelberg, then officiating as minister to the English church at Antwerp, and finally settling down in a like capacity in connection with the conformist church of ‘English merchants of the staple worshiping at the Gasthuis Kirk’ at Middelburg. His dissent from the Anglican discipline was, however, still further declared about this time in a letter prefixed to the ‘Disciplina Ecclesiastica’ of Walter Travers (which afterwards became the recognised text-book of puritanism), published at Rochelle in 1574. In the same year he issued a translation of Travers's book under the title, ‘A full and plaine Declaration of Ecclesiasticall Discipline owt of the Word off God, and off the declininge of the Churche off England from the same’ (also published at Geneva, 1580; Cambridge, 1584 and 1617). In 1576, in conjunction with Edward Snape, he visited the Channel Islands, for the purpose of assisting the Huguenot churches in those parts in their endeavours to establish a uniform discipline and organisation, and subsequently returned to Antwerp. In 1577 he married the sister of John Stubbe, the same who was convicted in 1579 of ‘seditious writing,’ and with whom he had probably become acquainted as a fellow-collegian. On the appearance of the Rhemish version of the New Testament in 1582, Cartwright was persuaded by the Earl of Leicester, Sir Francis Walsingham, and others (at the pressing instance, it is said, of Beza and some of the leading scholars of Cambridge), to prepare a criticism of the work. Walsingham subsidised his efforts by a gift of 100l., and he eventually carried his labours as far as the fifteenth chapter of Revelation. Whitgift, however, fearful of the controversies to which the publication of the work would probably give rise, persistently discouraged the undertaking, and the manuscript remained unprinted until after Cartwright's death. It was published in 1618 under the title of ‘A Confutation of the Rhemist's Translation.’ The archbishop's apprehensions can not be looked upon as groundless, when we consider that ‘to suffer Cartwright's “Answer to the Rhemish Testament”’ to be published is laid down by Marprelate as an indispensable condition of a satisfactory understanding with the bishops (An Epitome, &c., p. 38). Nares (Life of Burghley, iii. 210) characterises the book as ‘greatly favouring the Genevan discipline.’

On his return to Antwerp, Cartwright accepted the pastorate of the English church in that city, and his labours were alleged by him as a reason for not accepting an invitation to a chair of theology in the university of St. Andrews, which, on the recommendation of King James, was sent to him in 1584 (Epist. ded. to Homiliæ in Lib. Sal. a 3). The climate of the Low Countries did not, however, agree with him, and he earnestly petitioned that he might be permitted to return to England. His request was supported both by Burghley and by the Earl of Leicester, but Elizabeth refused her assent. Early in 1585 he ventured to return without having obtained the royal permission, and was forthwith committed to the Fleet by Aylmer, bishop of London. The bishop alleged the royal warrant in justification, but this he had not actually received, and, Elizabeth deeming it prudent to disavow the proceeding, Cartwright obtained his release. His views at this time appear to have remained unaltered, and in a letter (September 1585) addressed to Dudley Fenner he begs his friend to pray that he may be enabled to pursue ‘the path of sincerity’ to the end (Epist. prefixed to Fenner's Sac. Theol.)

Shortly after he was appointed by the Earl of Leicester master of a hospital which the earl had founded in the town of Warwick for the reception of twelve indigent men, to which the bishop of Worcester was appointed visitor. At the same time Leicester settled upon him an annuity of 50l. for life (Lansdowne MSS. lxiv. art. 5). Cartwright did not, however, restrict himself altogether to his duties at the hospital, but frequently preached in the town and neighbourhood, and is said to have been the first among the clergy of the church of England to introduce extemporary prayer into the services.

In the suspicions attaching to the publication of the Marprelate tracts Cartwright did not escape, although it is affirmed that ‘he was able to prove by sufficient witness that from the beginning of Martin he had on every occasion testified his dislike and sorrow for such kind of disorderly doings’ (ib. lxiv. art. 20–6). The death of the Earl of Warwick (1589–90), and that of the Earl of Leicester (1588), also deprived him of his two most powerful protectors, and at one time the revenues of the hospital were in danger of alienation; but through the influence of Burghley its possession was confirmed by the House of Commons.

The position of Cartwright in relation to religious parties was in some measure that of an eclectic. By Martin he is taxed with ‘seeking the peace of our church no otherwise than his platform may stand’ (An Epitome, p. 28). He appears to have treated Barrow and Greenwood with contemptuous indifference, and in 1590 he saw fit to sever himself distinctly from the Brownists; and in a letter to his sister-in-law (Mrs. Stubbe) dissuaded her from the doctrines of the new sect, arguing that admitted abuses in the church did not justify separation from its communion. This conduct did not avail, however, to prevent his being in some measure included in the persecution which was now directed against the puritanically inclined ministers of Northamptonshire and Warwickshire by Whitgift, and it seems that he occasionally afforded some justification for such suspicion by his participation in certain ‘secret conclaves’ of these ministers which assembled from time to time at Cambridge. On 1 Sept. 1590 he was summoned before the court of high commission, and eventually committed to the Fleet; and in 1591, having refused the oath ex officio, was remanded. Among his companions in prison were Udal and other eminent members of the puritan party (Birch, Mem. of Eliz. p. 61), but, according to Sutcliffe (Examination, &c., p. 45), Cartwright's confinement was mitigated by unusual indulgences. Powerful influence, including that of King James himself, was employed to procure his release (Epist. pref. in Lib. Sal.), which he eventually obtained through the efforts of Burghley, to whom (21 May 1592) he addressed a letter of thanks. He shortly after visited Cambridge, and preached there on a weekday before a crowded audience. In 1595 Lord Zouch, having been appointed governor of Guernsey, invited Cartwright to accompany him thither, and the latter remained in the island until 1598. His last years appear to have been spent in Warwick, where, according to Harington (Briefe View, p. 8), he ‘grew rich and had great maintenance to live upon, and was honoured as a patriarch by many of that profession.’

Sir Henry Yelverton (Epist. prefixed to Bishop Morton's Episcopacy Justified) affirms that Cartwright's last words were expressive of contrition at the unnecessary troubles he had caused the church, and of a wish that he could begin life again so as ‘to testify to the world the dislike he had of his former ways;’ and it would appear that he and Whitgift were on terms of amity before his death. That he renounced the views he had so long advocated is, however, rendered improbable by the fact that only six weeks before his decease, in a letter to Sir Christopher Yelverton (the father of Sir Henry), he appears to have done his best to support the efforts of those who were petitioning for reform in the church. Among the abuses which he enumerates are: ‘The subscription, other than the statute requires, the burden of ceremonies, the abuse of the spiritual courts—especially in the censures of suspension and excommunication—and the oath ex officio, and such others of that kind your worship understandeth to be contrary to the law of the land’ (Letter of 12 Nov. 1603; Sloane MS. 271, f. 22, b).

Cartwright died at Warwick on 27 Dec. 1603, after a short illness, having preached on the preceding Sunday. The impression produced by his writings is that of a mind of considerable culture and power; in learning and in originality he was undoubtedly Whitgift's superior. His temperament was, however, impulsive, and in argument he was often carried away by his impetuosity. Whitaker, a singularly competent and impartial judge, spoke contemptuously of his performance in the controversy with Whitgift (Paule, Life of Whitgift, p. 21; Bancroft, Survay, p. 380). His ideal in relation to church discipline and organisation was essentially presbyterian, and this in direct conjunction with the civil power. That he would have been willing to recognise any other form of church government as lawful, or even entitled to toleration, we find no evidence. But although wanting in the judgment and self-command essential in the leader of opinion and of party, he gave system and method to the puritanism of his day, and must be regarded as its most influential teacher during his lifetime.

Besides the works mentioned, Cartwright was the author of: 1. ‘A Christian Letter of certaine English Protestants … vnto that reverend and learned man, Mr. R[ichard] Hoo[ker]’—a criticism of the ‘Ecclesiastical Polity.’ 2. ‘In Librum Salomonis … Homiliæ,’ Lond. 1604. 3. ‘Commentarii … in Proverbia Salomonis,’ Leyden, 1617. 4. ‘Harmonia Evangelica,’ Amsterdam, 1627. 5. ‘Commentarii Practica in totam Historiam Evangelicam,’ 1630.

[A detailed account of Cartwright's life and writings is given in Cooper's Athenæ Cant. ii. 360–6. There is a life of him by Benj. Hanbury prefixed to the author's edition of Hooker's Works (1830), i.cxxxiv–ccvi; the writer, however, speaks of this as only ‘a sketch,’ in anticipation of the Memoirs by Benj. Brook which appeared in 1845, a work of some research, but evincing little discrimination, and conceived in a spirit of unqualified eulogy. See also Strype's Annals and Life of Whitgift; Dexter's Hist. of Congregationalism of the last Three Hundred Years; Mullinger's Hist. of the Univ. of Camb. vol. ii.; Colvile's Warwickshire Worthies, pp. 92–100, 878.]

J. B. M.