Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Crew, Nathaniel
CREW, NATHANIEL, third Baron Crew of Stene (1633–1721), bishop of Durham, was the fifth son of John Crew of Stene [q. v.], Northamptonshire, by Jemima, daughter of Edward Walgrave of Lawford, Essex. His father was a gentleman of considerable fortune, who adopted a moderate line of action on the parliamentary side during the great rebellion. Nathaniel entered Lincoln College, Oxford, in 1652; he took the degree of B.A. in 1656, and soon after was elected fellow of his college. His father's local influence was useful in promoting the Restoration, and his services were recognised by his elevation to the peerage in 1661, under the title of Baron Crew of Stene. This dignity conferred upon his father seems to have imbued Nathaniel's mind with a desire for the sweets of royal patronage. His own capacity for business was considerable, as in 1663 he was proctor of the university, and in 1668 was elected rector of Lincoln College. He had taken holy orders in 1664, and contrived to win the favour of the Duke of York, by whose influence he was made dean and precentor of Chichester in 1669, and clerk of the closet to Charles II. In 1671 he was further appointed bishop of Oxford, and resigned the rectorship of Lincoln in the following year.
Crew now began a discreditable career as the favourite ecclesiastic of the Duke of York, who needed a pliant adherent in the church to connive at his Romish practices. In 1673 Crew solemnised the marriage of the Duke of York with Maria d'Este, and in 1674 was further rewarded by being translated to the wealthy see of Durham. Next year he again acted as domestic chaplain to the Duke of York, by baptising his daughter, Catharine Laura. In 1676 he stepped into politics, and was sworn of the privy council to Charles II.
When James II ascended the throne he was not disappointed in his hope that Crew would prove subservient. The upright Bishop of London, Compton, was disgraced and deprived of the office of dean of the Chapel Royal, which Crew readily accepted. The king revived the ecclesiastical commission in the beginning of 1686, and Crew's vanity was delighted by being made a member of a body on which Archbishop Sancroft refused to serve. He said that now his name would be recorded in history, and when his friends warned him of the danger he was running, he answered that he ‘could not live if he should lose the king's gracious smiles’ (BurNet, Own Time, 431, ed. 1850). The first business of the commission was to suspend Compton from his spiritual functions; and Crew was appointed to administer the diocese of London together with Sprat, bishop of Rochester, a still more infamous creature of James II. When Samuel Johnson, the protestant theologian, was condemned to be flogged for writing against the king, Crew and Sprat degraded him from the priesthood as a preliminary to his punishment. Similarly in 1687 Crew was one of the ecclesiastical commissioners who suspended Pechell, the vice-chancellor of the university of Cambridge, because he refused to obey a royal command to admit to the degree of M.A. a Benedictine monk who declined to take the oath required by the statutes of the university. As Crew had been intimately connected with university business, this shows that his sycophancy was boundless, and we are not surprised at a story that he was prepared to go out and welcome the papal nuncio, but was prevented by his coachman's refusal to drive him for such a purpose (Kennet, Hist. of England, iii. 449). He further consented to act with the bishops of Rochester and Peterborough to draw up a form of thanksgiving when the queen was with child, though this was the office of the Archbishop of Canterbury.
Crew's devotion to James II went no further than his own interests. When in 1688 the king's prospects grew dark, Crew absented himself from the council chamber, and even told Sancroft ‘that he was sorry for having so long concurred with the court, and desired now to be reconciled with his grace and the other bishops’ (ib. iii. 527). On the flight of James II Crew went into hiding, and prepared to cross the seas, but was prevented by the entreaties of one of his servants. He was so mean-spirited as to try and curry favour with the new government by attending the last meeting of the convention, and giving his vote in the House of Lords in favour of the motion that the throne was vacant owing to James II's abdication. At the same time he strove to buy off the animosity of those whom he had injured, such as Johnson, by large gifts of money. It was clear that a man of such a time-serving spirit was in no way formidable, but Crew's offence had been so patent that he was excepted by name from the general pardon issued in May 1690. No steps, however, were taken against him, and on Tillotson's intercession he was forgiven, and was left in peaceful possession of his bishopric of Durham, though he was compelled to resign the right of appointing the prebendaries of his cathedral church.
Crew's public life had been sufficiently ignominious. He retired to his bishopric and tried to make some amends for the past. He was a capable administrator of the temporalities of his see, and made himself popular in his diocese by acts of generosity. In 1697 he became Baron Crew by the death of his brother without issue. He married in 1691 Penelope, daughter of Sir Philip Frowde of Kent, and after her death in 1699 he married a second time in 1700 Dorothy, daughter of Sir William Forster of Bamburgh in Northumberland. By this marriage, which took place when he was sixty-seven and his wife twenty-four years old, Crew became connected with one of the chief families in his bishopric. By the death of her brothers Lady Crew was coheir with her nephew Thomas to the manors of Bamburgh and Blanchland; but as the estate was encumbered, and Thomas Forster was not of a frugal disposition, the estate was sold by order of the court of chancery in 1704, and was bought by Lord Crew for 20,679l. (Dickson, Proceedings of the Berwickshire Club, vi. 333). This is worth noticing, as Thomas Forster was one of the leaders of the Jacobite rising in 1715, and it is generally said that Crew purchased his estates after his forfeiture, which is not the case.
Crew was happy in his married life, notwithstanding the disparity of age between his wife and himself. She died in 1715, and was buried at Stene, where the old man frequently visited her tomb. He died 18 Sept. 1721 at the age of eighty-eight. As he had no children, the barony of Crew became extinct on his death.
Crew is a remarkable instance of a man whose posthumous munificence has done much to outweigh a discreditable career. By his will he left the estates which he had purchased in Northumberland to trustees for charitable purposes, in which he left them a large discretion. Some of the proceeds were to be applied to the augmentation of small benefices in the diocese of Durham, some to the endowment of Lincoln College, Oxford, and some to the foundation of charities in the locality where the estates lay. Lincoln College devoted part of Crew's benefaction to university purposes, and the Crewian oration, delivered by the public orator at the commemoration of the benefactors of the university, still perpetuates Crew's name. The castle of Bamburgh, which is intimately connected with the early history of England, has been restored and repaired by Crew's trustees, and contains within its walls a school for the orphan daughters of fishermen. The maintenance of so famous a monument of England's past, and its dedication to such a purpose, is singularly impressive to the imagination, and Crew enjoys a reputation as a far-seeing philanthropist, which is more justly due to the wisdom of his trustees. Crew's portrait was painted by Kneller, and was engraved by Loggan; a copy of Loggan's print is in Hutchinson's ‘Hist. of Durham,’ i. 555.[Hutchinson's Hist. of Durham, i. 555, &c.; Baker's Hist. of Northampton, i. 684, &c.; Wood's Athenæ Oxon. ed. Bliss, iv. 885; Kippis's Biog. Brit. iv. 437, &c.; Hist. of King James's Ecclesiastical Commission; Birch's Life of Tillotson, p. 148, &c.; Macaulay's Hist. of England, chaps. viii. and ix.]