Page:Dictionary of National Biography volume 03.djvu/116

This page has been validated.

puritan party in his diocese. Elizabeth was desirous that he should be transferred to the see of Worcester, and that Bancroft should succeed to his episcopate. ‘Bishop Elmer,’ says Baker, ‘offered thrice in two years to have resigned his bishoprick with him upon certain conditions, which he [Bancroft] refused. Bishop Elmer signify'd the day before his death how sorry he was that he had not written to her majestie, and commended his last suit unto her highness, viz. to have made him his successor’ (Baker MSS. xxxvi. 335). Richard Fletcher, who was appointed Aylmer's successor, held the office only about eighteen months, and on 21 April 1597 Bancroft was elected, and his enthronement took place on 5 June. Shortly after he expended no less than a thousand pounds on the repair of his London house.

He was now, if we may credit Fuller (Worthies, Lancash. p. 112), virtually primate; for Whitgift's increasing infirmities rendered him unable to discharge the active duties of his office, and his former chaplain had gained his entire confidence. Bancroft also appears as often now taking part in political affairs. We find him, along with Dr. Christopher Perkins and Dr. Richard Swale, forming one of a diplomatic mission to Embden in the year 1600 for the purpose of there conferring with ambassadors from Denmark respecting certain matters in dispute between the two nations; but the arrangements having miscarried, the mission proved fruitless (Camden, Reign of Elizabeth, ii. 625, 648). When the Earl of Essex attempted to induce the citizens of London to rise in his favour, Bancroft collected a body of pikemen, who repulsed the earl's followers at Ludgate. He was present at the death-bed of Elizabeth, and joined in proclaiming King James; and when the new monarch set out on his progress from Scotland to London, he was met near Royston by the bishop, attended by an imposing retinue. On 22 July following, James and his consort honoured the bishop with a visit at his palace at Fulham.

His conduct from this time was marked by a severity and arbitrariness which his apologists have vainly endeavoured to defend. At the Hampton Court conference (January 1604) his hostility to the puritan party was evinced in a manner which drew down upon him the royal rebuke; and when Reynolds, on the second day's conference, brought forward a well-sustained proposal for a new translation of the Bible, Bancroft petulantly observed that ‘if every man's humour should be followed, there would be no end of translating’ (Barlow, Sum of the Conference, &c., Phœnix, i. 157). Of his whole conduct throughout the proceedings Mr. S. R. Gardiner writes: ‘It is scarcely possible to find elsewhere stronger proofs of Bancroft's deficiencies in temper and character’ (Gardiner, History of England, i. 155).

Archbishop Whitgift having died shortly after the conference, Bancroft was appointed to preside in the convocation of the clergy of the province of Canterbury, which assembled on 20 March 1604. By his directions a book of canons was compiled which embodied some of the most coercive provisions of the various articles, injunctions, and synodical acts put forth in the reigns of Edward VI and Elizabeth. This collection was presented to convocation, and, after having passed both houses, received the royal approval. It was, however, strenuously opposed and denounced in the session of parliament in the following May, and a bill was passed by the Commons declaring that no canon or constitution ecclesiastical made in the last ten years, or hereafter to be made, should be of force to impeach or hurt any person in his life, liberty, lands, or goods, unless first confirmed by the legislature. This has always been regarded as a serious blow to the authority of convocation, as the highest legal authorities have since agreed that these canons are not binding on the laity (Lathbury's Convocation, p. 231). Bancroft, as the reputed originator of the above collection, was exposed to all the odium attaching to the measure, and the result was to place him in a position of bitter antagonism to the civil courts for the rest of his life. It was one of his favourite ideas that, by fomenting the controversies that were then being waged between the secular catholic clergy and the Jesuits, he should succeed in winning many of the former over to the English church; and with this view he seems to have given a kind of sanction to the study of the literature which illustrated the points of difference between the two parties in the Roman communion. He had already been glanced at on this account in the Hampton Court conference (Barlow, Sum of the Conference, pp. 158–9), and an act was now brought into the House of Commons, and an information laid against him by William Jones, the printer, declaring ‘certain practices of the Bishop of London, the publishing traitorous and popish books,’ to be treason (State Papers, Dom. James, viii. 21–3). These proceedings led to no result, and on 17 Nov. following (1604) Bancroft was elected archbishop of Canterbury. In this exalted position he was still unable to forget former differences, and having been appointed commissioner in the following May in conjunction with the lord admiral and others, to hold an ecclesiastical