Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Croft, Herbert (1603-1691)

CROFT, HERBERT, D.D. (1603–1691), bishop of Hereford, third son of Sir Herbert Croft (d. 1622) [q. v.], by Mary, daughter and coheiress of Anthony Bourne of Holt Castle, Worcestershire, was born on 18 Oct. 1603 at Great Thame, Oxfordshire, in the house of Sir William Green, his mother being then on a journey to London. After a preliminary education in Herefordshire, he is said, on doubtful authority, to have been sent to the university of Oxford about 1616, and to have been summoned thence to Flanders by his father, who had joined the Roman catholic church. Wood asserts that he was placed in the English college at St. Omer, ‘where, by the authority of his father, and especially by the persuasions of John Floyd, a jesuit, he was brought to the Roman obedience, and made a perfect catholic.’ He certainly pursued his humanity studies as far as poetry at St. Omer's College, and also studied a little rhetoric at Paris; but on 4 Nov. 1626, when he was admitted as a convictor into the English college at Rome, under the assumed name of James Harley, he attributed his conversion to meetings with a nobleman who was incarcerated in a London prison for the catholic faith. He applied to Father Ralph Chetwin, a jesuit, who reconciled him to the Roman church in 1626 (Foley, Records, iv. 468). He left Rome for Belgium on 8 Sept. 1628, having behaved himself well during his residence in the English college (ib. vi. 312). On the occasion of a visit to England, to transact some business relating to the family estates, he was induced by Morton, bishop of Durham, to conform to the established church. Soon afterwards, by desire of Dr. Laud, he went to Oxford, and was matriculated in the university as a member of Christ Church. In 1636 he proceeded B.D., by virtue of a dispensation granted in consideration of his having devoted ten years to the study of divinity abroad. About the same time he became minister of a church in Gloucestershire, and rector of Harding, Oxfordshire.

In the beginning of 1639 he was appointed chaplain to the Earl of Northumberland in the Scotch expedition, and on 1 Aug. in that year he was collated to the prebend of Major Pars Altaris in the church of Salisbury. In 1640 he was created D.D. at Oxford. About this period he became chaplain to Charles I, who employed him in conveying his secret commands to several of the great officers of the royal army. These commissions Croft faithfully executed, sometimes at the hazard of his life. On 17 July 1640 he was nominated a prebendary of Worcester, on 1 July 1641 installed canon of Windsor, and towards the end of 1644 installed dean of Hereford.

In the time of the rebellion he was deprived of all his preferments. Walker relates that soon after the taking of Hereford the dean inveighed boldly against sacrilege from the pulpit of the cathedral. Some of the officers present began to murmur, and a guard of musketeers prepared their pieces and asked whether they should fire at him, but Colonel Birch, the governor, prevented them from doing so (Sufferings of the Clergy, ii. 34). He received scarcely anything from his deanery between the time of his nomination and the dissolution of the cathedrals, and afterwards he would have been compelled to live upon charity had not the family estate devolved upon him by the death of his brother, Sir William Croft. During great part of the usurpation he resided with Sir Rowland Berkeley at Cotheridge, Worcestershire.

At the Restoration he was reinstated in his deanery and other ecclesiastical preferments. On 27 Dec. 1661 he was nominated by Charles II to the bishopric of Hereford, vacant by the death of Dr. Nicholas Monke. He was elected on 21 Jan. 1661–2, confirmed on 6 Feb., and consecrated at Lambeth on the 9th of the same month. ‘He became afterwards much venerated by the gentry and commonalty of that diocese for his learning, doctrine, conversation, and good hospitality; which rendered him a person in their esteem fitted and set apart by God for his honourable and sacred function’ (Wood, Athenæ Oxon. ed. Bliss, iv. 311). Although the income of the see was scarcely 800l. a year, he was so well satisfied with it that he refused the offer of greater preferment. He was dean of the Chapel Royal from 8 Feb. 1667–8 till March 1669–70, when, ‘finding but little good of his pious endeavours’ at court, he retired to his episcopal see. Burnet says: ‘Crofts was a warm devout man, but of no discretion in his conduct: so he lost ground quickly. He used much freedom with the king: but it was in the wrong place, not in private, but in the pulpit’ (Own Time, ed. 1724, i. 258).

In his diocese he was energetic in his efforts to prevent the growth of ‘popery,’ and in 1679 he seized and plundered the residence or college of his old masters the jesuit fathers at Combe, near Monmouth (Foley, Records, iv. 463 seq.) He laid down strict rules for admission to holy orders, and dissatisfied some of the clergy by invariably refusing to admit any to be prebendaries of his church except those who resided in the diocese. In the exercise of his charity he augmented various small livings, and relieved many distressed persons. He caused a weekly dole to be distributed among sixty poor people at his palace gate in Hereford, whether he was resident there or not, for he spent much of his time in his country house, which was situated in the centre of his diocese. He died in his palace at Hereford on 18 May 1691, and was buried in the cathedral, where a gravestone, formerly placed within the communion rails, bears this somewhat enigmatical inscription: ‘Depositum Herberti Croft de Croft, episcopi Herefordensis, qui obiit 18 die Maii, A.D. 1691, ætatis suæ 88; in vitâ conjuncti.’

The last words, ‘in life united,’ allude to his lying next Dean Benson, at the bottom of whose gravestone are these words, ‘In morte non divisi;’ the two tombstones having hands engraved on them, reaching from one to the other, to signify the lasting friendship which existed between these two divines. The stone placed to the bishop's memory has since been removed to the east transept (Havergal, Fasti Herefordenses, pp. 32, 40).

By his will he settled 1,200l. for several charitable uses. He married Anne, daughter of Dr. Jonathan Browne, dean of Hereford, and left one son, Herbert, who was created a baronet in 1671, and who, on his death in 1720, was succeeded by his son Archer, and he by his son and namesake in 1761, who dying in 1797 without male issue, the title descended to the Rev. Sir Herbert Croft (1751–1816) [q. v.], the author of ‘Love and Madness.’

His works are: 1. ‘Sermon preached before the Lords assembled in Parliament upon the Fast Day appointed 4 Feb. 1673,’ London, 1674, 4to. 2. ‘The Naked Truth, or the True State of the Primitive Church, by an Humble Moderator,’ London, 1675, 4to, 1680 fol.; reprinted in the ‘Somers Tracts.’ Wood says, ‘the appearance of this book at such a time [1675] was like a comet.’ It was printed at a private press, and addressed to the lords and commons assembled in parliament. The author endeavours to show that protestants differ about nothing essential to religion, and that, for the sake of union, compliances would be more becoming, as well as more effectual, than enforcing uniformity by penalties and persecution. The book was attacked with great zeal by some of the clergy, particularly by Dr. Francis Turner, master of St. John's College, Cambridge, in ‘Animadversions on a pamphlet entitled “The Naked Truth,”’ printed twice in 1676. This was answered by Andrew Marvell, in a piece entitled ‘Mr. Smirke, or the Divine in Mode.’ Another reply to Croft's pamphlet was ‘Lex Talionis, or the Author of “The Naked Truth” stript Naked,’ 1676, supposed then to have been written by Dr. Peter Gunning, bishop of Chichester, though likewise attributed at the time to Philip Fell, fellow of Eton College, and to Dr. William Lloyd, dean of Bangor. Dr. Gilbert Burnet also answered Croft in ‘A Modest Survey of the most considerable Things in a Discourse lately published, entitled “The Naked Truth,”’ London, 1676, 4to (anon.) Other parts were afterwards issued with the same title, but not by the same author. A second part of ‘The Naked Truth’ (1681) was written by Edmund Hickeringhill; and the authorship of a third part (also 1681) is ascribed by Richard Baxter to Dr. Benjamin Worsley. A fourth part of ‘Naked Truth’ was published in 1682, in which year there also appeared ‘The Black Nonconformist discovered in more Naked Truth.’ This last is by Hickeringhill. To these may be added ‘The Catholic Naked Truth, or the Puritan's Convert to Apostolical Christianity,’ 1676, 4to, by W. H[ubert], commonly called Berry. 3. ‘Sermon preached before the King at Whitehall, 12 April 1674, on Phil. i. 21,’ London, 1675, 4to. 4. ‘A second Call to a farther Humiliation; being a Sermon preached in the Cathedral Church of Hereford, 24 Nov. 1678, on 1 Peter v. ver. 6,’ London, 1678, 4to. 5. ‘A short Narrative of the Discovery of a College of Jesuits, at a place called the Come, in the county of Hereford,’ London, 1679, 4to; reprinted in Foley's ‘Records,’ iv. 463. 6. ‘A Letter written to a Friend concerning Popish Idolatrie’ (anon.), London, 1674, 4to; reprinted 1679. 7. ‘The Legacy of Herbert, Lord Bishop of Hereford, to his Diocess, or a short Determination of all Controversies we have with the Papists, by God's Holy Word,’ London, 1679, 4to, contained in three sermons, to which is added ‘A Supplement to the preceding Sermons: together with a Tract concerning the Holy Sacrament of the Lord's Supper.’ 8. ‘Some Animadversions on a Book [by Dr. Thomas Burnet] intituled “The Theory of the Earth,”’ London, 1685, 8vo. 9. ‘A short Discourse concerning the reading of his Majesties late Declaration in the Churches,’ London, 1688, 4to; reprinted in the ‘Somers Tracts.’

[Wood's Athenæ Oxon. (Bliss), iv. 309, 880, Fasti, ii. 52, 237, 397; Biog. Brit. (Kippis); Le Neve's Fasti (Hardy), i. 472, 478, 511, iii. 86, 402; Wotton's Baronetage (1771), ii. 360; Godwin, De Præsulibus (Richardson), p. 497; Salmon's Lives of the English Bishops, p. 275; Jones's Popery Tracts, pp. 97, 321, 432; Willis's Survey of Cathedrals, ii. 529; Luttrell's Historical Relation of State Affairs, ii. 235; Bedford's Blazon of Episcopacy, p. 55; Lowndes's Bibl. Man. (Bohn), p. 555; Addit. MS. 11049, ff. 12, 14; Wadsworth's English Spanish Pilgrime, p. 21.]

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