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LEVER or LEAVER, THOMAS (1521–1577), puritan divine, born at Little Lever in Lancashire in 1521, was brother of Ralph Lever [q. v.] He graduated B.A. at St. John's College, Cambridge, in 1541–2; was elected, after being rejected in the previous year, junior fellow in 1543; proceeded M.A. in 1545; was admitted a senior fellow on 3 July 1548, and a college preacher 23 Sept. following. At Cambridge he made the acquaintance of Roger Ascham [q. v.], and he was soon a leader of the extreme party of protestant reformers in the university. Late in 1548 he and Roger Hutchinson engaged with Roman Catholics in a disputation in the college concerning the mass. On 2 Feb. 1549–50 he preached in the Shrouds at St. Paul's in London, and his puritan zeal led to an invitation to deliver sermons before Edward VI at court on the fourth Sunday in the ensuing Lent, 16 March 1549–1550. In April he was one of the divines who vainly endeavoured to convince Joan Bocher (Joan of Kent) [q. v.] of the error of her anabaptistical opinions. On 24 June 1550 he seems to have been re-ordained deacon by Ridley, bishop of London, and on 10 Aug., priest. On 14 Dec. he preached at St. Paul's Cross, boldly denouncing the corruptions of contemporary society and the neglect of education, and making interesting references to the contemporary condition of his own university. On 10 Dec. 1551 he was admitted master of St. John's College by royal mandate, and he proceeded B.D. in 1552. During Lent 1552–3, when Edward VI was lying ill, Lever again preached at court, and Knox wrote of his sermon, ‘The godlie and fervent man, Maister Lever, planelie spak the desolation of the common weill, and the plagues which suld follow schortlie’ (Knox, A Godly Letter sent to the Faythfull in London, Newcastle, Barwyk, &c.). On the death of the king, Lever supported the cause of Lady Jane Grey, and he supped with the Duke of Northumberland on 15 July 1553, when the duke visited Cambridge to proclaim Lady Jane queen. Two months after Queen Mary's accession, Lever resigned the mastership of his college, and fled to Zurich. There he made the acquaintance of Bullinger, and travelling thence by way of Lentzburg, Berne, and Lausanne, he arrived at Geneva on 13 Oct. 1554. At Geneva he regularly attended the lectures and sermons of Calvin. He was at Zurich again in the autumn of 1554, and while at Frankfort in the spring of the next year made vain efforts to reconcile the factions into which the controversy respecting the liturgy had divided the English exiles. He returned to Geneva, and late in 1555 the English congregation at Wesel offered him the pastorate there. He left Geneva for Strasbourg in January 1555–6, apparently on his way to Wesel, but his plans changed, and in the following May he was at Berne, contemplating a visit to the English protestants at Basle. Finally, in September 1556, he became minister of the English congregation at Aarau.

Queen Mary's death rendered his return to England possible. He received a license to leave Aarau on 11 Jan. 1558–9. He was soon afterwards busily preaching in England, but injured his chances of preferment by announcing the opinion that Elizabeth ought not to accept the title of supreme head of the church. About June 1559 he was appointed rector of Coventry and archdeacon of the same place. On 17 Sept. 1560 he wrote a letter to Sir Francis Knollys and Sir William Cecil describing the popular suspicions aroused in Coventry and its neighbourhood by the mysterious death of Leicester's wife, Amy Robsart. He urged the fullest investigation. On 28 Jan. 1562–3 he became master of Sherburn Hospital, Durham. He was a member of convocation in 1562, and subscribed the Thirty-nine Articles, although he was anxious that the church should adopt Calvinistic forms and practices. He was promoted to a canonry in Durham Cathedral on 21 Feb. 1563–4, but he conscientiously objected to wearing a surplice, and protested on 24 Feb. 1555–6, in a letter addressed to Leicester and Cecil, against the silencing of ministers who shared his views. In 1567 his persistence in his nonconformity led the bishop to deprive him of his canonry at Durham, but he remained archdeacon of Coventry and master of Sherburn Hospital, and repeatedly preached in a black gown in London churches. In July 1568 he delivered the sermon at the funeral of William Turner, dean of Wells. Three years later he and other puritan ministers were cited before the court of ecclesiastical commission for breaches of church discipline. On 18 June 1577 the Bishop of Lichfield and Coventry directed him, in the queen's name, to suppress the prophesyings which he encouraged in his archdeaconry. He left London for Sherburn in July 1577, and died on the road at Ware. He was buried in the chancel of the chapel of Sherburn Hospital, beneath a blue marble stone, on which are inscribed the words, ‘Preacher to King Edward VI.’

In the spring of 1559 he married a widow with three children. A daughter was born to him in July 1560, and he had a son, Sampson.

Lever was, according to Baker, a man of ‘much natural probity and blunt native honesty.’ ‘Preaching, indeed, was his talent.’ His sermons resembled Latimer's in their bluntness and boldness, and his reputation was made by his sharp rebukes of the courtiers when preaching before Edward VI. Baker, the historian of St. John's College, Cambridge, described him as ‘one of the best masters, as well as one of the best men, the college ever bred.’ He also showed much wisely directed energy at Sherburn Hospital, where he was succeeded by his brother Ralph.

Lever's works were: 1. ‘A fruitful Sermon made in Poules Churche, at London, in the Shroudes, the Seconde Daye of February 1549–1550,’ London (by John Daye and William Seres), 8vo, 9 April 1550 (Brit. Mus.). 2. ‘A Sermon preached the iiij Sonday in Lent before ye Kynges Majestie, and his honourable Counsell, Anno Domini mcccccl,’ London (by John Daye), 8vo, 9 April 1550. Some title-pages of this sermon describe it erroneously as ‘preached ye third Sundaye in Lent’ (cf. Nichols, Lit. Mem. of Edward VI, Roxb. Club, vol. i. p. cxxxvi; STRYPE, Eccl. Memorials, ii. 261, 272). 3. ‘A Sermon preached at Pauls Crosse the xiiii Day of December,’ London (by John Daye), 1550, 8vo (Bodleian); reprinted in 1572. 4. ‘A Meditacion upon the Lorde's Prayer, made at Sayncte Mary Wolchurche in London, Anno mdli,’ London (by John Daye), 8vo, 1551. 5. ‘A Treatise of the right Way from the Danger of Sinne and Vengeance in this wicked Worlde, unto Godly Wealth and Salvation in Christe,’ Geneva, 1556; newly augmented 1571, London (by Henry Bynneman), 8vo, 1571, 1575. The sermons numbered 1, 2, and 3 were reissued (as ‘Three fruitfull sermons, now newlie perused’) by Lever in 1572 (Lambeth and St. John's College, Cambridge), and they were reprinted by Professor Arber in 1871.

To John Bradford's ‘Godly Meditations,’ London, 1567, Lever contributed a preface ‘showing the true understanding of God's Word,’ and ‘A Meditation on the Tenth Commandment’ (see Bradford, Works, ed. Townsend, i. 565, 569). Some prayers by him appear in ‘A collection by certain godly learned men,’ London (by William Powell), n. d. 8vo, and he helped to compose ‘An Admonition to the Parliament for the Reformation of Church Discipline.’

[Cooper's Athenæ Cantabr. i. 366–8, 565; Tanner's Bibl. Brit.; Arber's reprint of Lever's three sermons pref. and introd. 1871; Baker's Hist. of St. John's College, Cambridge, ed. Mayor, esp. i. 130–6; Strype's Works; Le Neve's Fasti; Nichols's Lit. Memorials of Edward VI.]

S. L.