Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Fenner, Dudley

FENNER, DUDLEY (1558?–1587), puritan divine, was born in Kent, ‘heire of great possessions,’ and matriculated as a fellow-commoner of Peterhouse 15 June 1575. Brook (Lives of the Puritans, i. 392) says that he was ‘for some time a celebrated tutor in the university,’ but couples the remark with the impossible statement that Thomas Cartwright and Travers were his pupils. He probably obtained some fame at Cambridge as a preacher and follower of Cartwright, and was therefore obliged to leave the university very suddenly before taking a degree—‘pluckte,’ as he tells us, ‘from the university as from the swetest brestes of the nurse.’ He would appear to have given his service for some months to Richard Fletcher, vicar of Cranbrook in Kent, whose curate, John Stroud, was suspended in 1575; but he speedily followed Cartwright to Antwerp, where, being dissatisfied with his episcopal ordination, he was ordained after the manner of the reformed churches (Heylyn, Hist. of the Presbyterians, p. 252; but the fact of his English ordination is doubtful). For some years he remained at Antwerp assisting Cartwright, and married there; but the disturbed state of the Low Countries and the mildness of Archbishop Grindal towards puritans tempted him to return to England. John Stroud having died in October 1582, Fenner, in the spring of 1583, became Mr. Fletcher's curate at Cranbrook; but in the July of the same year Whitgift succeeded Grindal, and put forth three articles of conformity, insisting on an acknowledgment of the queen's supremacy, and of the authority of the prayer-book and articles. Seventeen Kentish ministers, of whom Fenner was the leader and spokesman, found themselves unable to subscribe. A paper entitled ‘Sentences and Principles of Puritans in Kent’ has written upon it in Lord Burghley's handwriting, ‘These sentences following are gathered out of certain sermons and answers in writing, made by Dudley Fenner.’ The ministers on refusing subscription were pronounced ‘contumaces reservata pœna,’ and called upon to answer at law in February 1584. Fearing the trouble and expense of prosecution they petitioned the bishop in January to continue their licenses. Fenner's name is first on the list of petitioners. The archbishop conferred with them ‘from two of the clock till seven, and heard their reasons,’ and the ‘two whole days following he spent likewise,’ but with no result. The ministers, being all suspended, appealed to the queen's council; their address is given by Fuller (Church History, ix. 144), and Whitgift's rejoinder by Strype (Whitgift, 1822, i. 252). The council not interfering Sir Thomas Scott of Scott's Hall, Ashford, and twenty-six gentlemen of Kent, waited upon Whitgift in May, and pleaded with him on behalf of the ministers (ib. i. 272). Fenner was finally apprehended and kept in prison for some months, when he subscribed for the purpose of getting abroad, and retired to the charge of the reformed church of Middleburgh, where Cartwright had settled. Here he died towards the end of 1587. He would seem to have had the sympathy of Mr. Fletcher, for the birth of his daughter in June 1585 is entered in the register of Cranbrook Church, ‘Faint not Fenner, daughter of D. F. Concional. Digniss.’ The last two words probably mean ‘most worthy preacher.’ A son, born December 1583, is given the name of More Fruit Fenner. Fenner's widow became the wife of Dr. William Whitaker, and bore him eight children. In the ‘Epistle Dedicatorie’ of the ‘Certain Godly and Learned Treatises,’ published in 1592, we are told that Fenner ‘ended his testimony in this life under thirtie years of age.’ In the list of his works which follows the reasons are noted for accepting 1587 as the year of his death. Fenner has always been reckoned among the ablest exponents of puritan views. His works are: 1. ‘A Brief Treatise upon the First Table of the Lawe, orderly disposing the Principles of Religion, whereby we may examine our selves,’ Middleburgh, 12mo, n.d., written (see preface) when the author was under twenty. 2. ‘An Answere unto the Confutation of John Nichols his Recantation, in all Pointes of any weight conteyned in the same …’ 4to, 1583. This is dedicated to the Earl of Leicester. John Nichols, having gone over to Rome, recanted to protestantism, and published books attacking the Romish religion. His ‘Declaration of the Recantation of John Nichols,’ &c., was published in 1581. The ‘D. F. preacher at Cambridge’ mentioned near the end of the treatise is probably Fenner. It was at once answered anonymously, and Fenner was asked to reply to the confutation, which he assumes throughout his book to have been by Parsons. 3. ‘A Counter-Poyson, modestly written for the time, to make Annswere to the Objections and Reproches, wherewith the Answerer to the Abstract would disgrace the Holy Discipline of Christ,’ London, 8vo, 1584? b. 1. This is printed also in ‘A Parte of a Register contayninge sundrie Memorable Matters,’ &c. 4. ‘The Artes of Logike and Rethorike, plainlie set foorth in the English toungue … togeather with examples for the practise of the same, for Methode in the Government of the familie, prescribed in the Word of God: And for the whole in the resolution or opening of Certaine Partes of Scripture, according to the same,’ Middleburgh, 4to, 1584. The British Museum Library contains a second undated Middleburgh edition in 8vo, and two copies of a 4to edition, with only the date 1584. 5. ‘Sacra Theologia sive Veritas quæ est secundum pietatem ad unicæ veræ methodi leges descripta, et in decem libros per Dudleium Fennerum digesta,’ London, 8vo, 1585; Geneva, 8vo, 1589 (priore emendatior); Geneva, 12mo, 1604; Amsterdam, 8vo, 1632. The two prefatory letters by Thomas Cartwright and the author contain some biographical information. There are manuscript translations of this work in the British Museum Library, in Lambeth Library, and in Dr. Williams's Library. The 1632 edition contains complimentary poems by G. B. and A. B. not in the previous edition. Fenner spent seven years on this work, and submitted it to the corrections of Cartwright and other friends. 6. ‘The Song of Songs … translated out of the Hebrue into Englishe meeter …’ Middleburgh, 1587 and 1594, 8vo. The dedication to the company of the ‘Marchant adventurers’ promises a similarly edited translation of the ‘Lamentations of Jeremiah’ and ‘all other Psalmes scatteringlye inserted in the Scriptures,’ which is ‘almost finished;’ Fenner's death in 1587 explains the non-fulfilment of this promise. 7. ‘A Short and Profitable Treatise of Lawfull and Unlawfull Recreations …’ 1587 and 1590, 12mo. 8. ‘The whole Doctrine of the Sacramentes, plainlie and fullie set doune, and declared out of the Word of God …’ Middleburgh, 1588, 8vo. 9. ‘Dudley Fenner his Catechisme,’ Edinburgh, 1592, 8vo. 10. ‘Certain Godly and Learned Treatises. Written by that worthie Minister of Christe, M. Dudley Fenner; for the Behoofe and Edification of al those that desire to grow and increase in true Godlines,’ Edinburgh, 1592, 8vo. This contains: ‘The Order of Householde,’ ‘The Lord's Prayer,’ ‘Philemon’ (these three are the ‘examples’ of 4 above), ‘A short and plaine Table … out of the first Table of the Law’ (1?), with 8 and 7. The ‘Epistle Dedicatorie’ gives some biographical facts; the ‘Treatise on Recreations’ was Fenner's first work, written ‘for his owne particular charge,’ when he was under twenty. 11. ‘A Parte of a Register, contayninge sundrie Memorable Matters, written by divers Godly and Learned in our Time …’ Edinburgh, 1593? 4to. This contains (p. 387) ‘Master Dudley Fenner's Defence of the Godlie Ministers against D. Bridge's slanders; with a True Report of the ill-dealings of the Bishops against them, written a month before his Death, Anno 1587;’ also (p. 412) ‘The Counter-Poyson,’ &c., and (p. 506) ‘A Defence of the Reasons of the Counter-Poyson.’ Wood (Athenæ Oxon. i. 496–7, Bliss) differs from the date here given for Fenner's death, but it is confirmed by the date of the dedication to 6, and by the preface of ‘The Sacred Doctrine of Divinitie,’ described below. 12. ‘Mr. Dudley Fenner his Consideration of the Admonition of Mr. Vaughan in maner of a Preface set before the Treatise of the Church, written by Mr. Bertrame de Logne of Daulphinee.’ Eleven pages among Morrice's MSS. in Dr. Williams's Library.

There have been attributed to Fenner: 1. ‘A Defence of the Reasons of the Counter-Poyson, for maintenance of the Eldership, against an Answere made to them by Dr. Copequot, in a publike Sermon at Pawles Crosse, upon Psalm 84, 1584,’ 16mo, 1586. This is also printed in ‘A Parte of a Register.’ The prefixed address makes it clear that the tract is not by the author of the ‘Counter-Poyson.’ 2. ‘The Sacred Doctrine of Divinitie, Gathered out of the worde of God. Togither with an Explication of the Lord's Prayer,’ 1599 (a mistake for 1589), 16mo. The preface warns readers that this is not a translation of Fenner's ‘Sacra Theologia,’ and speaks of him as three years dead. It is dated 1 Jan. 1589. 3. ‘A Brief and Plain Declaration, containing the Desires of all those Faithful Ministers who seek Discipline and Reformation of the Church of England,’ &c., 1584. Brook (Lives of the Puritans, i. 388) says that this work, though having Fenner's name prefixed, is by Dr. William Fulke. Heylyn (Hist. of the Presbyterians, p. 284) says of the puritans ejected by Whitgift, that ‘four of the most seditious of the pack, Penry, Throgmorton, Udal, Fenner …’ produced the ‘Mar-Prelate Tracts.’ As far as Fenner is concerned the statement is unsupported.

[Full particulars of the troubles of the Kentish ministers and of Fenner are to be found in Roger Morrice's MSS. preserved in Dr. Williams's Library, and in MS. 374, f. 115, in the Lambeth Library; Strype's Whitgift summarises these accounts. Tarbutt's Annals of Cranbrook Church (Lecture, iii. 1875) gives the fullest life of Fenner, but makes no attempt to criticise Brook's misstatements. Cooper (Athenæ Cantabr. ii. 72) gives an excellent list of his works, and of books in which he is referred to; to the latter may be added C. W. Bardsley's Curiosities of Puritan Nomenclature; W. Whitaker's Opera Theologica, i. 701 (in the Vita Whitakeri, by Ashton, where Fenner is spoken of as Cantianus generosa familia natus); Melchior Adam's Decades Duæ, &c., 1618, p. 171.]

R. B.