Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Stapleton, Thomas (1535-1598)
STAPLETON, THOMAS, D.D. (1535–1598), catholic controversialist, born at Henfield, Sussex, in July 1535, was son of William Stapleton, steward to the bishop of Winchester, and a member of the Carlton family of Stapleton (Chetwynd-Stapylton, Stapeltons of Yorkshire, 1897, p. 161). Thomas acquired the rudiments of grammar in the free school at Canterbury under John Twyne [q. v.] In 1550 he was admitted a scholar at Winchester, where the entry in the register states that he was then twelve years of age and that he was a native of, or a resident at, Oving, Sussex (Kirby, Winchester Scholars, p. 129). He was elected to a fellowship at New College, Oxford, 18 Jan. 1552–3, and graduated B.A. on 2 Dec. 1556 (Oxford Univ. Register, i. 233). Shortly before the death of Queen Mary he was collated by Bishop Christopherson to the prebend of Woodhorne in Chichester Cathedral. Being attached to the ancient form of religion, he left the country soon after Queen Elizabeth's accession, and settled at Louvain, where he applied himself to the study of theology. Subsequently he proceeded to the university of Paris in order to complete his knowledge of the sacred tongues, and then ‘for devotion sake’ paid a visit to Rome. On his return to Louvain he found letters from his father desiring his immediate attendance in England. He complied with the request, and was required by his diocesan Bishop Barlow to abjure the authority of the pope, and to acknowledge the spiritual supremacy of the queen. In consequence of his refusal he was deprived of his prebend early in 1563, and he again retired to Louvain, taking with him his father and some other members of his family (Records of the English Catholics, i. 306; Cartwright, Rape of Bramber, p. 275).
In 1569 William (afterwards Cardinal) Allen [q. v.] invited him to the newly founded English College in the university of Douay, where he rendered signal service both as a teacher and a benefactor; he was appointed lecturer in divinity at Anchin College with a considerable salary. One of his pupils at Douay was John Pits [q. v.] When the university of Douay became aware of his extraordinary qualifications, he was unanimously chosen public professor of divinity, and he and Allen completed the degree of D.D. on 10 July 1571. He also obtained a canonry in the collegiate church of St. Amatus at Douay. In consequence of the political disturbances in Belgium, Stapleton, Gregory Martin [q. v.], and Dr. Richard White [q. v.] proceeded to Rome on 9 Nov. 1576. Stapleton returned to the college on 14 June 1577.
Having resolved to join a religious order, he resigned his canonry and professorship, and entered the Society of Jesus in the Belgian province in 1584, but he left the novitiate before pronouncing the vows (More, Hist. Prov. Anglicanæ Soc. Jesu, p. 29). Dodd says it was by Allen's persuasion that he forsook the noviceship, but the ‘Douay Diary’ and Stapleton's metrical autobiography concur in stating that ill-health was the cause of his not continuing in it (Constable, Specimen of Amendments to Dodd's Church Hist. pp. 119–22; Dodd, Apology for the Church Hist. p. 129). Stapleton now returned to his canonry of St. Amatus, which he retained until 1590. Philip II, by letters patent dated 13 July 1590, conferred upon him the chair of holy scripture at Louvain, vacant by the death of Michael Baius, together with the canonry of St. Peter, which was annexed to the professorship. Shortly afterwards the king presented him to the deanery of Hilverenbeeck, in the diocese of Bois-le-Duc. The latter benefice was worth a thousand florins a year, and that sum, added to what he already possessed, and to the fees which he obtained as a private tutor to youths of good family, enabled him to render pecuniary assistance to his exiled fellow-countrymen (Paquot, Hist. Littéraire des Pays-Bas, ii. 526).
Stapleton's fame as a controversialist had spread all over Europe, and Pope Clement VIII esteemed his writings so highly that he ordered portions of them to be read publicly at his table. In 1596 the pontiff twice invited him to Rome: first, with an offer of residence in the household of Cardinal Aldobrandino, the pope's nephew; and the second time with the promise of a chair in the Sapienza. Stapleton declined both invitations; but in January 1596–7 he accepted from his holiness a third offer of an appointment as prothonotary apostolic. His friends believed that he would be created a cardinal. Father Agazzari, rector of the English College at Rome, was alarmed at the prospect of Stapleton's promotion to the purple, and suggested on 25 Sept. 1596 to Parsons, who was at Madrid, the promotion of an ecclesiastic of whose fidelity to the crown of Spain there could be no doubt. Stapleton wrote from Louvain to Parsons at Madrid in 1597 that he was, and sincerely intended to remain, a true and trusty servant to the king of Spain ‘though I hap to live, and perhaps to continue, in the court of Rome.’ Stapleton intended to set out for Rome in August 1597, but, either from illness or some other cause, remained at Louvain. Dr. Humphrey Ely implies that there was some other reason, for he writes: ‘The first man you [i.e. Father Parsons] name is M. D. Stapleton “whom his Holiness purposed to prefer to higher dignity.” If he were now alive, he would tell another tale against those that hindered him from that higher dignity, and that told him a tale in his ear when he was ready to put his foot into his litter, and made him stay at home and lose that “higher dignity”’ (Ely, Certaine Briefe Notes, &c., 1603, p. 254). Stapleton died at Louvain on 12 Oct. (N.S.) 1598, and was buried in the church of St. Peter, where a monument was erected to his memory with a long Latin inscription, which has been printed by Pits (De Angliæ Scriptoribus, p. 797). He left all his books and manuscripts to the English College at Douay; but Dodd, after a diligent search, was unable to find any of the manuscripts.
Wood calls Stapleton ‘the most learned Roman catholic of all his time,’ and it is generally admitted that he was a most skilful controversialist. Even his chief adversary, William Whitaker [q. v.], paid a willing tribute to his powers and erudition. Stapleton attempted to introduce some moderation at least into the theory of the relations between the papal authority and civil governments. He disclaimed any suzerainty of the pope over princes, and he denied that the pope had any right to dethrone them for any merely civil cause. At the same time he held that the pope could justly interfere with temporal governments when they were hostile or detrimental to the catholic religion, and that the pope might excite the people to throw off the authority of their prince and to dethrone him; and if this did not succeed, the prince might give the throne to some catholic prince. Stapleton was one of the English writers on whose information Pius V mainly relied when he issued his famous bull against Queen Elizabeth. His principal polemical opponents were Dr. William Fulke, Dr. William Whitaker, Dr. John Rainolds, Bishop Jewell, and Dr. John Bridges, bishop of Oxford.
His portrait, engraved by L. Gualtier and representing him in a doctor of divinity's habit, forms the frontispiece of his collected works (Granger, Biogr. Hist. i. 224). It is reproduced in Richardson's collection of ‘Engravings illustrating Granger's Biographical History of England’ (vol. iii.).
Stapleton's principal works are: 1. ‘The History of the Church of Englande. Compiled by Venerable Bede, Englishman. Translated out of Latin into English,’ Antwerp, 1565, 4to; St. Omer, 1622, 8vo. 2. A translation from the Latin of Frederic Staphylus's ‘Apologie, intreating of the true and right vnderstanding of holy Scripture,’ Antwerp, 1565, 4to. To this is appended a ‘Discours of the Translatour vppon the doctrine of the protestants, which he trieth by the three first founders and fathers thereof, Martin Luther, Philip Melancthon, and especially Iohn Caluin.’ 3. ‘A Fortresse of the Faith first planted amonge vs englishmen, and continued hitherto in the vniuersall Church of Christ. The faith of which time Protestants call Papistry,’ Antwerp, 1565, 4to. 4. ‘A returne of vntruthes vpon M. Iewels Replie,’ Antwerp, 1566, 4to. 5. ‘A Counterblast to M. Hornes vayne blaste against M. Fekenham,’ Louvain, 1567, 4to. The substance of the ‘Counterblast’ was in reality penned by Fekenham, who was in custody in England, and who requested Stapleton to revise the manuscript and to publish the work in his own name. 6. ‘Of the express Word of God,’ Louvain, 1567, from the Latin of Cardinal Hosius. 7. ‘In Laudem Franc. Richardoti Atrebat. Episc. Oratio Funebris, Duaci habita MDLXXIIII mense Augusto,’ Douay, 1608, 4to. 8. ‘Orationes Funebres,’ Antwerp, 1577. 9. ‘Principiorum Fidei doctrinalium Demonstratio methodica, per controuersias septem in libris duodecim tradita,’ Paris, 1578, 1579, and 1582, with a thirteenth book. 10. ‘Speculum pravitatis hæreticæ per orationes quasi ad oculum demonstratæ,’ Douay, 1580. 11. ‘De Universa Justificationis Doctrina, hodie controversa, lib. xii.,’ Paris, 1581. 12. ‘Tres Thomæ; seu res gestæ S. Thomæ apostoli, S. Thomæ archiepisc. Cantuar. et martyris, et Thomæ Mori Angliæ quondam cancellarii,’ Douay, 1588, 8vo; Cologne, 1612, 8vo. The ‘Life of More’ was in 1689 printed both separately (Gratz , 12mo), and as a preface to More's collected Latin works [see under More, Sir Thomas]; and a French translation, by A. Martin, appeared at Paris (1849, 8vo), ‘avec une introduction, des notes et commentaires par M. Audin.’ 13. ‘Promptuarium Morale super Evangelia Dominicalia totius anni. Pars Hyemalis,’ Antwerp, 1591; Cologne, 1615; Paris, 1617, 8vo. ‘Pars Æstivalis,’ Venice, 1593, 1594; Mayence, 1610; Cologne, 1620; both parts, 2 vols. Antwerp, 1613, 8vo; Paris, 1 vol. 1627, 8vo. 14. ‘Promptuarium Catholicum in Evangelia Dominicalia totius Anni,’ Cologne, 1592, 1602; Paris, 1617, 8vo. 15. ‘Promptuarium Catholicum in Evangelia Ferialia totius Quadragesimæ,’ reprinted Paris, 1617, 8vo. 16. ‘Promptuarium Catholicum in Evangelia Festorum totius Anni,’ Cologne, 1592; Antwerp, 1608. 17. ‘Relectio Scholastica et Compendiaria Principiorum Fidei Doctrinalium,’ Antwerp, 1592; Louvain, 1596. 18. ‘Authoritatis Ecclesiasticæ circa S. Scripturarum approbationem … Defensio … contra Disputationem de Scriptura Sacra G. Whitakeri,’ Antwerp, 1592, 8vo (cf. Lambeth MS. 182: ‘De ecclesiæ autoritate ex dictatis eximii viri Thomæ Stapletoni’). 19. ‘Apologia pro rege catholico Philippo II Hispaniæ rege, contra varias et falsas accusationes Elizabethæ Angliæ reginæ, per edictum suum publicatas et excusas, authore Didymo Veridico Henfildano,’ Constance, 1592, 8vo (Letters and Memorials of Cardinal Allen, p. 339). The quaint pseudonym, being interpreted, seems to mean ‘Thomas the Stable-toned (or truth-speaking) Henfieldite.’ 20. ‘Antidota Evangelica in quatuor Evangelia,’ Antwerp, 1595. 21. ‘Antidota Apostolica in Acta Apostolorum,’ Antwerp, 1595. 22. ‘Antidota Apostolica in Epist. Pauli ad Romanos,’ Antwerp, 1595. 23. ‘Antidota Apostolica in duas Epistolas ad Corinthios,’ Antwerp, 1598, 1600. 24. ‘Orationes Catecheticæ, sive Manuale Peccatorum, de Septem Peccatis Capitalibus,’ Antwerp, 1598; Lyons, 1599. 25. ‘Verè admiranda: seu de Magnitudine Romanæ Ecclesiæ Libri duo’ (edited by Christopher ab Assonvilla, lord of Alteville), Antwerp, 1599, 4to; Rome, 1600, 8vo; Bruges, 1881, 8vo. 26. ‘Orationes Academicæ Miscellaneæ;’ some of these were published in 1602. 27. ‘Oratio Academica; an politici horum temporum in numero Christianorum sint habendi?’ Munich, 1608, 8vo.
His collected writings were published in four huge folio volumes under the title of ‘Opera omnia; nonnulla auctius et emendatius, quædam jam antea Anglice scripta, nunc primum studio et diligentia doctorum virorum Anglorum Latine reddita’ (Paris, 1620). Prefixed to the first volume is a curious autobiography of Stapleton in Latin hexameter verse, and a brief sketch of his life by Henry Holland, licentiate of theology at Douay.[Metrical autobiography; Life by Holland; Ames's Typogr. Antiq. ed. Herbert; Dodd's Church Hist. ii. 84; Douay Diaries, pp. lxxiii, civ, 441; Duthillœul's Bibl. Douaisienne, 2nd edit. pp. 36, 371; Foster's Alumni Oxon. 1500–1714, iv. 1413; Fuller's Worthies; Laity's Directory, 1812, with portrait; Lansdowne MS. 982, f. 209; Lower's Worthies of Sussex, p. 275; Lowndes's Bibl. Man. ed. Bohn; Molanus, Hist. de Louvain, 1861, i. 481; Parker Society Publications (Gough's gen. index); Simpson's Biography of Campion, pp. 59, 368; Cal. State Papers, Dom. Eliz. 1547–80 p. 150, 1598–1601 p. 488; Strype's Works (gen. index); Tablet, 1888, pt. ii. pp. 657, 705, 745, 785, 826; Tanner's Bibl. Brit.; Wood's Athenæ Oxon. ed. Bliss, i. 669; Notes and Queries, 9th ser. ii. 123.]