Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Davenport, Christopher

DAVENPORT, CHRISTOPHER (1598–1680), Franciscan and controversialist, better known as Franciscus â Clarâ, was born in Coventry in 1598, and educated at the school there. He was the son of John Davenport, alderman of Coventry, by Elizabeth Wolley, his wife. At the age of fifteen Christopher and his elder brother John went to Merton College, Oxford, as pupils to Mr. Samuel Lane. According to Wood, they were ‘only battelers, and took cook's commons.’ Sir H. Savile, the warden of Merton, not approving of this arrangement, required the two brothers to enter as commoners or to leave the college. They elected to do the latter. John, the elder, went to Magdalen Hall, became a noted puritan, and is separately noticed. Christopher was brought under the influence of a Romish priest living near Oxford, and went to Douai (1615). After remaining there a short time, he was transferred to Ypres, and (7 Oct. 1617) entered the Franciscan order of friars. He then returned to Douai, and joined the English Recollects of that order, entering the college of St. Bonaventura. Here he read lectures, and, after a time, went into Spain, and took degrees in divinity at Salamanca. Returning to Douai, he became chief reader in the college. He went to England as a missionary under the name of Franciscus a Sanctâ Clarâ, and was appointed one of the chaplains of the Queen Henrietta Maria. He soon became remarkable for his learning, and for his extremely liberal views as to the distinctive Romish tenets. He held that there was no essential or fundamental difference between the churches of England and Rome, and devoted himself to the attempt of reconciling the church of England to the Roman obedience. In this he had very considerable success. Probably Bishop Montague [q. v.], the author of the ‘Appello Cæsarem,’ was influenced by him, and it is known that Goodman, bishop of Gloucester, was altogether of his mind. This bishop lived in close intimacy with Sancta Clara, who was with him at his death, and in his will he professed his belief ‘that no other church hath salvation in it, but only so far as it concurs with the faith of the church of Rome’ (Goodman, Introd. ed. Brewer). The connection of Sancta Clara with Archbishop Laud, which was made a part of the seventh article of the impeachment of the archbishop, was as follows, according to Laud's statement: ‘I never saw that Franciscan friar Sancta Clara in my life above four times or five at the most. He was first brought to me by Dr. Lindsell. I did fear he would never expound them (the English articles), so as the church of England might have cause to thank him for it. He never came to me after till he was ready to print another book, to prove that episcopacy was authorised in the church by divine right. … I still gave him this answer, that I did not like the way the church of Rome went concerning episcopacy, and I would never give way that any such book from the pen of any Romanist should be printed here’ (Laud, Hist. of Troubles). The treatise on the articles alluded to by Laud was Sancta Clara's most remarkable work. It was printed first by itself, then as an appendix to a volume called ‘Deus, Natura, Gratia, sive Tractatus de Prædestinatione, &c.; accedit expositio Articulorum Confessionis Anglicæ.’ It is an attempt to prove that the English articles are not essentially antagonistic to the Roman doctrine. The book was printed at Lyons in 1634; it was dedicated to Charles I, and, if not licensed in England, was probably tolerated by the archbishop. Sancta Clara remained in high favour at court, and in friendly intercourse with many of the English divines till the rebellion, when he absconded for a time. He soon, however, returned, and lived in concealment at Oxford, or in the neighbourhood, being on terms of friendship with Dr. Barlow, the Bodleian librarian. A curious history belongs to his book on the English articles. He had dexterity or influence enough to get it licensed at Rome, but it was strongly condemned in Spain, and placed on the ‘Index Expurgatorius.’ At Venice, as the English ambassador writes, it caused great indignation, and the jesuits contended that the friar ought to be burned. Sancta Clara was a man of attractive manners and great dexterity. He even ventured to try his powers on Cromwell, and presented to him (in 1656) an ‘Explanation of the Roman Catholic Belief,’ with a design to obtain toleration for it. Another treatise of his with the same object was entitled ‘A clear Vindication of the Roman Catholics from a foul aspersion, to wit, that they have and do promote a bloody and wicked design of the Pope and Cardinals.’ He appears to have always escaped arrest or punishment during the troublous times of the Commonwealth. He usually passed by the name of Hunt, sometimes by that of his native town, Coventry. He was very sharp in his attacks on converts from Romanism to protestantism. At the Restoration Sancta Clara was restored to high favour, and became chaplain to the queen of Charles II. Probably, however, he was not now on such terms of intimacy with the English divines as he had been formerly, as the public mind became so excited against popery. He died at Somerset House in the Strand, 31 May 1680, and was buried at the Savoy. His principal works were: 1. ‘Tractatus adversus Judiciariam Astrologiam.’ 2. ‘Paraphrastica Expositio Articulorum Confessionis Anglicæ,’ printed first separately, afterwards in appendix to 3. ‘Deus, Natura, Gratia, sive Tractatus de Meritis et Peccatorum remissione seu de Justificatione et denique de Sanctorum invocatione,’ Lyons, 1634. 4. ‘Systema Fidei sive Tractatus de Concilio Universali.’ 5. ‘Opusculum de definibilitate controversiæ immaculatæ conceptionis Dei Genetricis.’ 6. ‘Tractatus de Schismate speciatim Anglicano.’ 7. ‘Fragmenta seu Historia minor provinciæ Fratrum minorum.’ 8. ‘Manuale Missionarium Regularium præcipue Anglorum S. Francisci.’ 9. ‘Apologia: an Explanation of the Roman Catholic Belief,’ 1656. 10. ‘A clear Vindication of the Roman Catholics from a foul aspersion, to wit, that they have and do promote a bloody and wicked design of the Pope and Cardinals.’

[Wood's Athenæ Oxonienses, ed. Bliss, vol. iii.; Laud's History of his Tryals and Troubles, ed. Wharton, 1695; Prynne's Canterbury's Doom, 1644; Goodman's Court of King Charles I, ed. Brewer, 1839.]

G. G. P.