Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Neville, Thomas (d.1615)

NEVILLE, THOMAS (d. 1615), dean of Canterbury, brother of Alexander Neville (1544–1614) [q. v.], was son of Richard Neville of South Leverton, Nottinghamshire, and Anne, daughter of Sir Walter Mantell, knight, of Heyford, in Northamptonshire. He was born in Canterbury, to which city his father retired in his latter years. He entered at Pembroke College, Cambridge, somewhat early, and in November 1570 was elected a fellow of that society. Among the fellows was Gabriel Harvey [q. v.], and the two were bitter enemies, Neville even going as far as to non-placet the grace for the admission of Harvey to his master of arts degree. In 1580 he was appointed senior proctor of the university. In 1582 he succeeded to the mastership of Magdalene College, being presented to the office by Thomas, lord Howard, first earl of Suffolk [q. v.], and grandson of Lord Audley, the founder. Shortly after he was appointed chaplain to the queen, who in 1587 conferred on him the second prebend in Ely Cathedral; and about this time he was presented to the rectory of Doddington-cum-March, in the Isle of Ely.

In 1588 he was elected vice-chancellor of the university, and proceeded D.D. He held office only one year, and in 1590 was appointed dean of Peterborough. In 1592, in conjunction with other deans and prebendaries, he took a prominent part in soliciting the enactment of an act of parliament confirming them in their rights and revenues, which were at that time in danger of being confiscated under the pretext that they were derived from concealed lands, and belonged rightly to the crown. In February 1592–3 he was appointed by the queen to the mastership of Trinity College, and on his entering upon the office his arms were emblazoned in the ‘Memoriale’ of the college, an honour never vouchsafed, according to the compiler of that volume, to any preceding master. In March 1593–4 he resigned the rectory of Doddington for that of Teversham, near Cambridge. He continued to rise in the royal favour, and on 28 June 1597 was installed dean of Canterbury, resigning his deanery at Peterborough.

Neville, in conjunction with and acting under the directions of Whitgift, took an active part in repelling the attacks on Calvinistic doctrine made in the university by Peter Baro [q. v.] and William Barret [q. v.] about 1595. He was greatly esteemed and trusted by the archbishop, and on the death of Elizabeth was chosen by him for the important function of bearing to King James in Scotland the united greetings of the clergy of England on his accession. Whitgift also appointed him one of his executors.

When James I visited the university in March 1614–15, Neville kept open house for the royal train at Trinity Lodge, with sumptuous hospitality. He was disabled by palsy from waiting personally on the king, but the latter, before his departure from Cambridge, visited him in his apartments, and with his own hands assisted him to rise from his knees, observing that ‘he was proud of such a subject.’ Neville died at Trinity Lodge on the 2nd of the following May, and was interred on the seventh in Canterbury Cathedral, in the ancient chantry in the south aisle, which he had designed to be the burial place of his family. He never married, and was thus enabled to leave to his college what Fuller terms ‘a batchelor's bounty.’ His claims to be remembered by posterity rest indeed chiefly on his great services to the foundation, where, to quote the expression of Hacket, ‘he never had his like for a splendid, courteous, and bountiful gentleman.’ In order to carry out his plans for the adornment and extension of the college, he obtained permission from Elizabeth to lease the lands and livings for a period of twenty years (instead of ten years, as before). His first improvement was to remove the various structures belonging to King's Hall, Michael House, and Physick Hostel, which encumbered the area of what is now the great court; and, assisted by the architect Ralph Symons [q. v.], to erect, or alter in their present form, most of the buildings (except the chapel) now surrounding it. ‘When he had completed the great quadrangle,’ says the ‘Memoriale,’ ‘and brought it to a tasteful and decorous aspect, for fear that the deformity of the hall, which through extreme old age had become almost ruinous, should cast as it were a shadow over its splendour, he advanced 3,000l. for seven years out of his own purse, in order that a great hall might be erected answerable to the beauty of the new buildings. Lastly, as in the erection of these buildings he had been promoter rather than author, and had brought these results to pass more by labour and assiduity than by expenditure of his own money; he erected at a vast cost, the whole of which was defrayed by himself, a building in the second court adorned with beautiful columns, and elaborated with the most exquisite workmanship, so that he might connect his own name for ever with the extension of the college.’ He also contributed to the college library, and was a benefactor to Eastbridge Hospital in his native city. It is to be noted that he himself wrote his name Nevile, and hence probably his motto, ‘Ne vile velis.’

[Todd's Account of the Deans of Canterbury; Hacket's Life of Archbishop Williams; Memoriale in Trinity College Library; Willis and Clark's Architectural History of the University of Cambridge, vol. ii.; Mullinger's Hist. of the University of Cambridge, vol. ii.; Willet's Synopsis Papismi, 1600, p. 961.]

J. B. M.