Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Leyburn, John
LEYBURN, JOHN, D.D. (1620–1702), catholic prelate, fourth son of John Leyburn and Catharine Carr, and nephew of Dr. George Leyburn [q. v.], was born in 1620, and educated in the English College at Douay, where he was admitted a student on 20 June 1633. He received holy orders, was engaged for some time in teaching the classics in the college, and during the time of the civil wars he was tutor to Francis Browne, eldest son of Viscount Montague, and made the tour of Europe with his pupil. He was one of the divines recommended to the authorities at Rome in 1657 as successor to Richard Smith, bishop of Chalcedon, vicar-apostolic of England. For about twelve years he resided in England as domestic chaplain in the family of Lord Montague. In a list of persons deemed worthy of promotion to the projected episcopate in England in 1669 he is mentioned as professor of theology and a canon of the chapter, an excellent catholic, of great piety and prudence, but who had once been a heretic, and who had a brother who was a very great puritan (Brady, Episcopal Succession, iii. 141). Unlike his uncle, he regarded the catholic chapter in England as validly erected, and likewise confirmed by the holy see.
He was appointed president of the English College at Douay, that post being surrendered to him by his uncle, Dr. George Leyburn, in May 1670. He resigned the presidency in 1676, and soon afterwards proceeded to Rome, when he became secretary and auditor to Cardinal Howard. In a particular congregation for English affairs held in the Quirinal Palace on 6 Aug. 1685, the Propaganda, on the relation of the Cardinal of Norfolk, elected Leyburn vicar-apostolic of all England, and the pope gave his approbation the same day. He was consecrated at Rome on 9 Sept., with the title of bishop of Adrumetum, in partibus. In the following month he arrived in London, and the king lodged him in St. James's Palace, and allowed him a pension of 1,000l. a year. With him came Ferdinand, count of Adda, as papal nuncio. Some time afterwards he made a pastoral visitation throughout the whole kingdom, administering the sacrament of confirmation to great numbers of people, for there had been no catholic bishop resident in England since 1629. During his residence at court he was on terms of intimacy with Dr. Thomas Cartwright, bishop of Chester.
Leyburn vainly endeavoured to moderate the indiscreet zeal by which James II tried to advance the catholic cause, and he boldly told the king that the fellows and students of Magdalen College, Oxford, were grievously wronged, and that restitution ought to be made to them on religious as well as political grounds. Macaulay says that Leyburn, ‘with some learning and a rich vein of natural humour, was the most cautious, dexterous, and taciturn of men,’ and that ‘he seems to have behaved on all occasions like a wise and honest man.’ He became the first vicar-apostolic of the London district, which was created by letters apostolic of 30 Jan. 1687–8.
When the revolution broke out Bishops Leyburn and Giffard were seized at Faversham on their way to Dover, and were actually under arrest when the king was brought into that town. Both prelates were committed to prison, Leyburn being sent to the Tower. On 9 July 1690 he and Giffard were liberated on bail by the court of queen's bench, on condition that they transported themselves beyond sea before the last day of the following month (Luttrell, Hist. Relation of State Affairs, ii. 73). Afterwards he was frequently alarmed and summoned when any disturbance happened in relation to the government, but eventually the ministry, being fully satisfied with his conduct, took no further notice of him, and only desired to be made acquainted from time to time with his place of abode. He died in London on 9 June 1702, and was succeeded in the vicariate-apostolic of the London district by Dr. Bonaventure Giffard [q. v.]
Dodd says he was diminutive in stature, had acquired the character of being both wise and polite, and was a great master of style in the Latin tongue. He was not only a theologian, but also a good mathematician, and an intimate friend of Descartes and Hobbes (Brady, iii. 147).
Leyburn translated into Latin Sir Kenelm Digby's treatise on the soul, under the title of ‘Demonstratio Immortalitatis Animæ Rationalis,’ Paris, 1651 and 1655, fol. With Giffard, P. Ellis, and James Smith he published ‘A Pastoral Letter from the four Catholic Bishops to the Lay-Catholics of England’ (on the re-establishment of catholic episcopal authority in England), London, 1688, 1747, 4to.