Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Burton, Henry
BURTON, HENRY (1578–1648), puritan divine, was born at Birdsall, a small parish in the East Riding of Yorkshire, 'which never had a preaching minister time out of mind.' In his own 'Narration' of his life, sixty-four is stated as his age in the latter part of 1642; in his 'Conformities Deformity,' 1646, it is stated as sixty-seven; the inference is that he was born in the latter part of 1578. The record of his baptism is not recoverable, but his father, William Burton, was married to Maryanne Homle [Humble] on 24 June 1577. His mother, he tells us, carefully kept a New Testament which had been his grandmother's in Queen Mary's time. He was educated at St. John's College, Cambridge, where he graduated M.A. in 1602. His favourite preachers were Laurence Chaderton and William Perkins. On leaving the university he became tutor to two sons of 'a noble knight,' Sir Robert Carey, afterwards (1626-1639) earl of Monmouth. He relates that one Mrs. Bowes, of Aske, predicted 'this young man will one day be the overthrow of the bishops.' Through the Carey interest, Burton obtained the post of clerk of the closet to Prince Henry; while acting in this capacity he composed a treatise on Antichrist, the manuscript of which was placed by the prince in his library at St. James's. He complains that the bishop (Richard Neile of Durham), who was clerk of the closet to King James, 'depressed him;' however, on Prince Henry's death (6 Nov. 1612) Burton was appointed clerk of the closet to Prince Charles. On 14 July 1612 he had been incorporated M.A. at Oxford, and was again incorporated on 15 July 1617. He tells us that at the age of thirty (i.e. in 1618) he resolved to enter the ministry. Fuller says that he was to have attended Prince Charles to Spain (17 Feb. 1623), and that for some unknown reason the appointment was countermanded, after some of his goods had been shipped. Burton does not mention this, but says (which perhaps explains it) that he could not get a license for a book which he wrote in 1623 against the 'Converted Jew,' by Fisher (i.e. Piercy) the Jesuit, to refute Arminianism and prove the pope to be Antichrist. He had, in fact, thrust himself into a discussion then going on between Fisher and George Walker, puritan minister of St. John's, Watling Street. On the accession of Charles, Burton took it as a matter of course that he would become clerk of the royal closet, but Neile was continued in that office. Burton lost the appointment through a characteristic indiscretion. On 23 April 1625, before James had been dead a month, Burton presented a letter to Charles, inveighing against the popish tendencies of Neile and Laud (who in Neile's illness was acting as clerk of the closet). Charles read the letter partly through, and told Burton 'not to attend more in his office till he should send for him.' He was not sent for, and did not reappear at court. Clarendon says that Burton complained of being 'despoiled of his right.' He deplored the death of James, but not through any love for that sovereign; indeed he speaks of the influence of James in retarding the high-church movement as the only thing which 'made his life desirable.' He was almost immediately presented to the rectory of St. Matthew's, Friday Street, and used his city pulpit as a vantage from which to conduct an aggressive warfare against episcopal practices. He began to 'fall off from the ceremonies,' and was cited before the high commission as early as 1626, but the proceedings were stopped. Bishop after bishop became the subject of his attack. For a publication with the cheerful title 'The Baiting of the Popes Bvll,' &c., 1627, 4to, which bore a frontispiece representing Charles in the act of assailing the pope's triple crown, he was summoned, in 1627, before the privy council, but again got off, in spite of Laud. His 'Babel no Bethel,' 1629, in reply to the 'Maschil' of Robert Butterfield [q. v], procured him a temporary suspension from his benefice, and a sojourn in the Fleet. More serious troubles were to come. On 5 Nov. 1636 he preached two sermons in his own church from Prov. xxiv. 21, 22, in which he charged the bishops with innovations amounting to a popish plot. His pulpit style was perhaps effective, but certainly not refined; he calls the bishops caterpillars instead of pillars, and 'antichristian mushrumps.' Next month he was summoned before Dr. Duck, a commissioner for causes ecclesiastical, to answer on oath to articles charging him with sedition. He refused the oath, and appealed to the king. Fifteen days afterwards he was cited before a special high commission at Doctors' Commons, did not appear, and was in his absence suspended ab officio et beneficio, and ordered to be apprehended. He shut himself up in his house, and published his sermons, with the title, 'For God and the King,' &c., 1636, 4to, whereupon (on 1 Feb. 1636-7) his doors were forced, his study ransacked, and himself taken into custody and sent next day to the Fleet (the warrants will be found reprinted in Brook). Peter Heylyn wrote a 'Briefe Answer' to Burton's sermons. In prison Burton was soon joined by William Prynne and John Bastwick, a parishioner [q. v.], who had also written 'libellous books against the hierarchy,' and the three were proceeded against in the Star-chamber (11 March) and included in a common indictment. An attempt was indeed made on 6 June to get the judges to treat the publications of Bastwick and Burton (he had added to his offence by publishing, from his prison, 'An Apology for an Appeale,' 1636, 4to, consisting of epistles to the king, the judges, and 'the true-hearted nobility') as presenting a primâ facie case of treason, but this fell to the ground. The defendants prepared answers to the indictment, but it was necessary that these should be signed by two counsel. No counsel could be found who would risk the odium of this office, and the defendants applied in vain to have their own signatures accepted, according to ancient precedents. Burton was the only one who got at length the signature of a counsel, one Holt, an aged bencher of Gray's Inn, and Holt, finding he was to be alone, drew back, until the court agreed to accept his single signature. Burton's answer, thus made regular, lay in court about three weeks, when on 19 May the attorney-general, denouncing it as scandalous, referred it to the chief justices, Sir John Bramston and Sir John Finch. They made short work of it, striking out sixty-four sheets, and leaving no more than six lines at the beginning and twenty-four at the end. Thus mutilated, Burton, would not own it; he was not allowed to frame a new answer, and on 2 June it was ordered that he, like the rest, should be proceeded against pro confesso. Sentence was passed on 14 June, the defendants crying out for justice, and vainly demanding that they should not be condemned without examination of their answers. Burton, when interrogated as to his plea by the lord keeper (Baron Coventry), briefly and with dignity defended his position, maintaining that 'a minister hath a larger liberty than always to go in a mild strain,' but his defence was stopped. He was condemned to be deprived of his benefice, to be degraded from the ministry and from his academical degrees, to be fined 5,000l., to be set in the pillory at Westminster and his ears to be cut off, and to be perpetually imprisoned in Lancaster Castle, without access of his wife or any friends, or use of pen, ink, and paper. For this sentence Laud gave the court his 'hearty thanks.' Burton's parishioners signed a petition to the king for his pardon; the two who presented it were instantly committed to prison. Burton took his punishment with enthusiastic fortitude. 'All the while I stood in the pillory,' he says, 'I thought myself to be in heaven and in a state of glory and triumph.' His address to the mob ran: 'I never was in such a pulpit before. Little do you know what fruit God is able to produce from this dry tree. Through these holes God can bring light to his church.' His ears were pared so close, says Fuller, that the temporal artery was cut. When his wounds were healed, and he was conveyed northward on 28 July, fully 100,000 people lined the road at Highgate to take leave of him. His wife followed in a coach, and 500 'loving friends' on horseback accompanied him as far as St. Albans. The whole journey to Lancaster, reached on 3 Aug., resembled a triumphal progress rather than the convoy of a criminal. Laud (see his letter to Wentworth on 28 Aug.) was very angry about it. At Lancaster, Burton was confined in 'a vast desolate room,' without furniture; if a fire was lighted, the place was filled with smoke; the spaces between the planks of the floor made it dangerous to walk, and underneath was a dark chamber in which were immured five witches, who kept up 'a hellish noise' night and day. The allowance for diet was not paid. Dr. Augustine Wildbore, vicar of Lancaster, kept a watchful eye over Burton's reading, to see that the order confining him to the bible, prayer-book, and 'such other canonical books' as were of sound church principles, was strictly obeyed. Many sympathisers came about the place, and, notwithstanding all precautions, Clarendon says that papers emanating from Burton were circulated in London. A pamphlet giving an account of his censure in the Star-chamber was published in 1637. Accordingly on 1 Nov. he was sent, by way of Preston and Liverpool, to Guernsey, where he arrived on 15 Dec., and was shut up in a stifling cell at Castle-Cornet. Here he had no books but his bibles in Hebrew, Greek, Latin, and French, and an ecclesiastical history in Greek, but he contrived to get pen, ink, and paper, and wrote two treatises, which however were not printed. His wife was not allowed to see him, though his only daughter died during his imprisonment. On 7 Nov. 1640 his wife presented a petition to the House of Commons for his release, and on 10 Nov. the house ordered him to be forthwith sent for to London. The order arrived at Guernsey on Sunday, 15 Nov.; Burton embarked on the 21st. At Dartmouth, on the 22nd, he met Prynne, and their journey to London was again a triumphal progress. Ten thousand people escorted them from Charing Cross to the city with every demonstration of joy. On 30 Nov. Burton appeared before the house, and on 5 Dec. presented a petition setting forth his sufferings. The house on 12 March 1640-1 declared the proceedings against him illegal, and cast Laud and others in damages. On 24 March his sentence was reversed, and his benefice ordered to be restored; on 20 April a sum of 6,000l. was voted to him; on 8 June a further order for his restoration to his benefice was made out. He recovered his degrees, and received that of B.D. in addition. The money was not paid, nor did he get his benefice, to which Robert Chestlin had been regularly presented. But on 5 Oct. 1642 his old parishioners petitioned the house that he might be appointed Sunday afternoon lecturer, and this was done. Chestlin, who resisted the appointment, was somewhat hardly used, being imprisoned at Colchester for a seditious sermon; he escaped to the king at Oxford. Left thus in possession at St. Matthew's, Friday Street, Burton organised a church on the independent model. Gardiner says of Burton's 'Protestation Protested,' published in July 1641, that it 'sketched out that plan of a national church, surrounded by voluntary churches, which was accepted at the revolution of 1688.' He published a 'Vindication of Churches commonly called Independent,' 1644 (in answer to Prynne), and exercised a very strict ecclesiastical discipline within his congregation. Marsden says 'it was not in the power of malice to desire, or of ingenuity to suggest, a weekly spectacle so hurtful to the royal cause' as that of Burton preaching in Friday Street without his ears. He had enjoyed the honour of preaching before parliament, but did not approve the course which events subsequently took. He was for some time allowed to hold a catechetical lecture every Tuesday fortnight at St. Mary's, Aldermanbury, but on his introducing his independent views the churchwardens locked him out in September 1645. This led to an angry pamphlet war with the elder Calamy, rector of the parish [see Calamy, Edmund, 1600-1666]. Wood, who remarks that he 'grew more moderate,' thought he lived to witness the execution of Charles, but he died a year before that event. During his imprisonment he had contracted the disease of the stone, which was probably the cause of his death. He was buried on 7 Jan. 1647-8. By his first wife, Anne, he had two children: 1. Anne, bapt. 21 Sept. 1621. 2. Henry, bapt. 13 May 1624, who married Ursula Maisters on 30 Nov. 1647, and is described as a merchant. His second wife, Sarah, and son, Henry, survived him, and on 17 Feb. 1652 petitioned the house for maintenance; the son got lands of 200l. yearly value from the estate of certain delinquents, out of which the widow was to have 100l. a year for life. Granger describes a rare print of Laud and Burton, in which the archbishop vomits his works while the puritan holds his head.
Burton's chief publications in addition to those mentioned are: 1. 'A Censvre of Simonie,' 1624, 4to. 2. 'A Plea to an Appeale,' 1626. 3. 'The Seven Vials; or a briefe Exposition upon the 15 and 16 chapters of the Revelation,' 1628. 4. 'A Tryall of Private Devotion,' 1628. 5. 'England's Bondage and Hope of Deliverance,' 1641, 4to (sermon from Psalm liii. 7, 8, before the parliament on 20 June). 6. 'Truth still Truth, though shut out of doors,' 1645, 4to (distinct from 'Truth shut out of doores,' a previous pamphlet of the same year); and, from the catalogue of the Advocates' Library, Edinburgh, 7. 'The Grand Impostor Unmasked, or a detection of the notorious hypocrisie and desperate impiety of the late Archbishop (so styled) of Canterbury, cunningly couched in that written copy which he read on the scaffold,' &c. 4to, n.d. 8. 'Conformities Deformity,' 1646, 4to.[Narration of the Life, &c., 1643 (portrait); Biog. Brit. 1748, ii. 1045, ed. Kippis, iii. 43; Wood's Ath. Ox. 1691, i. 814, 828, &c.; Walker's Sufferings of the Clergy, 1714, ii. 165; Brook's Lives of the Puritans, 1813, iii. 40; Fisher's Companion and Key to Hist. of Eng. 1832, pp. 515, 610; Marsden's Later Puritans, 1872, pp. 122 sq.: Gardiner's Hist. England, vii. viii. ix. x.; Hook's Lives of the Archbishops of Canterbury, xi. 1875 (Laud), 292 sq.; extracts from parish registers of Birdsall, per Rev. L. S. Gresley, and of St. Matthew's, Friday Street, per Rev. Dr. Simpson.]