Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Corker, James
CORKER, JAMES or MAURUS (1636–1715), Benedictine monk, was a native of Yorkshire. He was brought up in the protestant religion, but was converted to Catholicism, and joining the Benedictine order was professed in the monastery of St. Adrian and St. Dionysius at Lambspring in Germany on 23 April 1656 (Hist. MSS. Comm. 3rd Rep. 236). He was sent on the English mission in the southern province in 1665, and for twelve years he was chaplain to a widow lady of distinction. Being alarmed at the narrative of Titus Oates, who had included him among those concerned in the pretended popish plot, he concealed himself for several months, but at last he was apprehended and committed prisoner to Newgate. On 18 July 1679 he was tried at the Old Bailey with Sir George Wakeman, William Marshall, and William Rumley; but their innocence was so evident that the jury returned a verdict of 'not guilty.' Corker was detained, however, on account of his sacerdotal character, and on 17 Jan. 1679–80 was tried for high treason in having taken holy orders from the see of Rome, was found guilty, and sentenced to death. It is stated that during his confinement in Newgate he reconciled more than a thousand persons to the catholic church (Weldon, Chronological Notes, p. 219), and he acted as spiritual director to the unfortunate Oliver Plunket, catholic archbishop of Armagh (ib. p. 223; Moran, Memoirs of Archbishop Plunket, pp. 346, 365). He was elected president-general of his order in 1680, being installed in Newgate, and in the following year he was made cathedral prior of Canterbury.
On the accession of James II he was restored to liberty, and was even received by his majesty at court as resident ambassador of the elector of Cologne on 31 Jan. 1687–8. He has been charged with indiscretion in accepting this public appointment, but the circumstance seems to have been overlooked that the abbot of Lambspring had been sometimes accredited to the court of Charles II by this very elector (Oliver, Catholic Religion in Cornwall, p. 495). Lingard states that Corker on the occasion of his reception at court was accompanied by six other monks in the habit of the Benedictine order. He remarks that 'it was a ludicrous rather than an offensive exhibition; but while it provoked the sneers and derision of the courtiers it furnished his enemies with a new subject of declamation against the king, who, not content with screening these men from legal punishment, brought them forward as a public spectacle to display his contempt of the law and defiance of public opinion' (Hist. of England, ed. 1849, x. 294).
From a manuscript preserved at Ampleforth College it appears that in the reign of James II Corker, having first set up a chapel in the Savoy, from which, owing to a dispute with the Jesuits, he was persuaded by the king to remove, 'went to St. John's, corruptly called St. Jone's [at Clerkenwell], and there built a mighty pretty convent, which the revolution of 1688 pulled down to the ground, to his very great loss, for as he was dean of the rosary he melted down the great gold chalice and patten to help towards this building, supplying the want of them with one of silver just of that make. He counted this convent, for the conversion of souls, amongst those things which the holy fathers of the church allow the church treasures to be spent on' (Cromwell, Hist. of Clerkenwell, pp. 86, 87). The establishment had but a brief existence, being the first object of attack by the populace when the news reached London of the safe landing of William, prince of Orange. On Sunday,, 11 Nov. 1688, a crowd assembled round the building and was about to demolish it when a military force arrived. The ecclesiastics at Clerkenwell tried to save their property. They succeeded in removing most of their furniture before any report of their intentions got abroad; but at length the suspicions of the rabble were excited. The last two carts were stopped in Holborn, and all that they contained was publicly burned in the middle of the street.
Forced to seek refuge on the continent, Corker was declared the second president-elect of the English Benedictine congregation held at Paris in 1689, and in the following year (but in 1693, according to Oliver) he was elected abbot of Lambspring in Germany (Weldon, Chronological Notes, Append. p. 23). It is stated that in 1691 he was voted abbot of Cismar. He caused the quarters of his friend, the martyred archbishop of Armagh, to be transferred to Lambspring and honour ably embalmed. On 27 July (O.S.) 1696 he resigned his dignity and returned to England. He lived in a recluse solitary manner 'at 1 Stafford House, near the park;' his room was lined with books and 'ghastly pictures drawn dead with ropes about their necks,' representing the victims of the popish plot. He said that he was comforted when under sentence of death by the hope that his sufferings would expiate the guilt of an ancestor in accepting Norstall Abbey (Letter from E. Corker, 4 Jan. 1703–4, communicated by Mr. L. J. D. Townshend). He died at Paddington, London, on 22 Dec. 1715, and was buried at St. Pancras.
His works are: 1. 'Stafford's Memoires; or a brief and impartial account of the birth and quality, tryal, and final end of William, late Lord Viscount Stafford. Beheaded on Tower Hill, Wednesday, 29 Dec. 1680 ' (anon.), Lond., 1681, 12mo; 2nd edit. 1682 (Pezius, Epistolæ Apologeticæ pro Ordine S. Benedicti, p. 240). 2. 'Roman Catholick Principles in reference to God and the King' (anon.) This remarkable treatise first appeared as a small pamphlet in 1680, and at least two other editions of it were published in that year. It is reprinted in 'Stafford's Memoires.' Six editions of the 'Principles' were published before 1684, and six were published by Goter in 1684–6 at the end of his 'Papist misrepresented and represented.' Bishop Coppinger gave at least twelve editions of the 'Principles,' first in his 'Exposition,' and afterwards in his 'True Piety.' Eleven or twelve more editions were published between 1748 and 1813, and a reprint appeared in the Pamphleteer' in 1819 (xiii. 86 et seq.), and again with the title of 'The Catholic Eirenicon, in friendly response to Dr. Pusey,' Lond., 1865, 8vo. On perusing the work Dr. Leland, the historian, is said to have declared that if such were the principles of catholics no government had any right to quarrel with them. Charles Butler, who reprints it (Memoirs of the English Catholics, ed. 1822, iii. 493), declares it to be a clear and accurate exposition of the catholic creed on some of its most important principles, and Dr. Oliver calls it a 'concise but luminous treatise ' (Catholic Religion in Cornwall, p. 509). Bishop Milner, however, asserted in an official charge to his clergy in 1813 that it 'is not an accurate exposition of Roman catholic principles, and still less the faith of catholics ' (Supplementary Memoirs, pp. 264-78). In consequence of some exceptions taken against the accuracy of the ' Propositions' which form the heading of 'The Faith of Catholics' by the Rev. Joseph Berington and Dr. John Kirk, the latter reprinted Corker's treatise in 1815 (Rambler, ix. 248; Gillow, Bibl. Dict, of the English Catholics, i. 570, 571). 3. 'A Remonstrance of Piety and Innocence; containing the last Devotions and Protestations of several Roman Catholicks, condemned and executed on account of the Plot,' Lond., 1683, 12mo. 4. 'A Sermon on the Blessed Eucharist,' Lond., 1695, 12mo. 5. 'Correspondence with Oliver Plunket, Archbishop of Armagh;' manuscripts formerly in the possession of the Rev. Charles Dodd, who, in his 'Church History,' ii. 514-19, has printed some letters from Corker, giving an account of Plunket's life. 6. 'Queries to Dr. Sacheverell from North Britain' (anon.), no place or date, 4to; probably printed in 1710. 7. 'A Rational Account given by a Young Gentleman to his Uncle of the Motives and Reasons why he is become a Roman Catholick, and why he declines any farther disputes or contests about Matters of Religion' (anon.), s. 1. aut an. 4to, pp. 8 (Gillow, Bibl. Dict, of the English Catholics, i. p. xx).[Authorities cited above; also Hist. MSS. Comm. 3rd Rep. 233, 236, 261, 7th Rep. 474, 744; Snow's Benedictine Necrology, 88; Dodd's Church Hist. iii. 488 ; Luttrell's Relation of State Affairs, i. 18, 32, 430, 474, 475, 477; Howell's State Trials, vii. 591; Letters of Rachel, Lady Russell, ed. 1853, i. 237; Macaulay's Hist. of England, ed. 1858, ii. 497, 498.]