Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Downham, William
DOWNHAM, WILLIAM, whose name is sometimes spelt Downame and Downman (1505–1577), bishop of Chester, was born in Norfolk in 1505. He took his degree of B.A. at Oxford 4 Feb. 1541 as chaplain of Magdalen. He proceeded M.A. 6 June 1543, and on 25 July following was elected fellow of Magdalen. He supplicated for the degrees of B.D. and D.D. 13 July 1562, but was admitted to neither degree till 30 Oct. 1566, when he and four other bishops had the doctor's degree conferred on them in London by commission from the queen. He had been chaplain to the Princess Elizabeth, and after her accession to the throne he was appointed archdeacon of Brecknock in 1559 and canon of Westminster 21 June 1560. On 4 May in the following year he was consecrated bishop of Chester, but the canonry was not filled till 1564.
He seems to have disappointed the queen's expectations of him in not being active in enforcing the Act of Uniformity and in hunting down popish recusants; for in the first year of his episcopate a complaint was lodged against him before the council, which was referred to the Archbishop of Canterbury (Parker) and the bishops of Winchester (Horne), Ely (Cox), and Worcester (Bullingham) for their investigation. There is extant in the Record Office a letter from them to the council, dated 19 Feb. 1561, thanking the council for allowing the case to be tried by them. And there is also a schedule containing the names of more than fifty recusants signed by Grindal, bishop of London, Cox of Ely, and Downham of Chester, to which is appended a list of those who had eluded arrest, and of others imprisoned by their order in the Fleet, the Marshalsea, the Counter, Poultry, the Counter, Wood Street, and the king's bench. On 12 Nov. 1570 he was again summoned for remissness, and on 14 Jan. Parker was again directed to inquire into the matter (Council Register). In 1562 he was commissioned, with the Earl of Derby and others, to enforce the act. In 1567 he was sharply rebuked by the queen for not providing for the churches in his diocese and for remissness in prosecuting recusants, and in the autumn of the following year he gave an account of his diocese. In 1568 the action of the commissioners was quickened by a letter from the queen of 3 Feb., which was enforced by another from her majesty of 21 Feb. to the bishop alone. On 1 Nov. of the same year he reports progress to Cecil, and speaks of the good service done by the preaching of the dean of St. Paul's.
He left behind him another certificate of recusants which he had intended to send to the council. His name appears, with those of the Archbishop of York and that of the Bishop of Durham, as signing the canons of 1571, which had been signed by all the bishops of the southern province.
He died in November or December 1577, and was buried in his own cathedral. The inscription on his grave, which has long since perished, has been preserved by Willis, and bears date 31 Dec. 1577. He left two sons—George, afterwards bishop of Derry, and John, who are separately noticed.
[Le Neve's Fasti; Wood's Athenæ (Bliss), ii. 814; Wood's Fasti (Bliss), 111, 161, 256; Oxford Univ. Reg. (Oxford Hist. Soc.), i. 200, 248; Domestic State Papers, and Appendix by Green; information from Dr. Bloxam.]