Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Swift, Robert

SWIFT, ROBERT (1534?–1599), chancellor of Durham, born at Rotherham about 1534, belonged to a Yorkshire family settled there (Testamenta Eboracensia, v. 196–7). A member of it, Robert Swift, was steward to Francis Talbot, fifth earl of Shrewsbury [q. v.] (Lodge, Illustrations, i. 233–9), and another Robert (1568–1625), high sheriff of Yorkshire, was father of Barnham Swift (d. 1634), who in 1627 was created Viscount Carlingford, an Irish peerage which became extinct on his death. His daughter Mary became the wife of Robert Feilding, ‘Beau Feilding’ [q. v.] Dean Swift was said to be descended from the same family (Hunter, Hallamshire, ed. Gatty, pp. 363–6; Hunter, South Yorkshire, i. 204–5; G. E. C[okayne]'s Complete Peerage, ii. 148).

Swift was, by command of the royal visitors, admitted on 4 July 1549 a scholar of St. John's College, Cambridge, on Riplingham's foundation. He proceeded B.A. in 1552–3, and on 25 March following was admitted a fellow on the Lady Margaret's foundation. On Mary's accession he left England, and while abroad is said to have graduated LL.B. at Louvain, the expense being paid by some English merchants resident at Antwerp (memorial inscription). He returned after Mary's death, and in 1561 became spiritual chancellor of Durham. On 28 March 1562 he was collated to the first stall in Durham Cathedral (Le Neve, iii. 308), and in the following year was appointed rector of Sedgefield, though he was not ordained deacon until 5 Oct. 1563. He resigned the chancellorship in 1577. On 12 May 1596 he endowed the school at Sedgefield founded by Tobie or Tobias Matthew [q. v.], bishop of Durham, with a cotehouse for the benefit of such children as were unable ‘to pay for their school hire’ (Surtees, Durham, iii. 419). In 1599 he was placed on a commission for the suppression of heresy (Rymer, xvi. 386). He died in that year, and was buried in Durham Cathedral, an inscription to his memory being placed on his tomb. His wife Anne, daughter of Thomas Lever [q. v.], is said to have been the first clergyman's wife who set foot in the college of Durham. She survived him, and bequeathed 5l. to Sedgefield school and 10l. to St. John's College.

Swift's manuscript commonplace book is now in the library of the dean and chapter at Durham. Many ecclesiastical documents drawn up by him, including an account of the proceedings in the consistory court while he was chancellor, were printed in ‘Extracts … from the Courts of Durham’ (Surtees Soc.), 1845, and in the ‘Injunctions … of Richard Barnes, bishop of Durham’ (Surtees Soc.), 1850.

[Authorities cited; Pilkington's Works (Parker Soc.), p. xii; Hutchinson's Durham, ii. 221, 327–8, iii. 60; Baker's St. John's Coll., ed. Mayor, i. 149, 151, 248, 286; Addit. MS. 24436, f. 85 b; Cooper's Athenæ Cantabr. ii. 281, 551.]

A. F. P.