Sparke, Thomas (DNB00)

SPARKE, THOMAS (1548–1616), divine, was born in 1548 at South Somercote, Lincolnshire. He was elected to a demyship at Magdalen College, Oxford, in 1567, and was fellow from 1569 to 1572. He graduated B.A. in October 1570, M.A. in June 1574, B.D. in July 1575, and D.D. on 1 July 1581, 'being then in great esteem for his learning.' Having taken holy orders, he became chaplain to Cooper, bishop of Lincoln, by whom he was collated archdeacon of Stow on 1 March 1575. By the favour of Arthur Grey, fourteenth lord Grey de Wilton [q. v.], he was presented also to the rectory of Bletchley, Buckinghamshire, where he was instituted on 2 Sept. 1578. The rectory and archdeaconry being at some distance from each other, Sparke resigned the latter 'out of conscience' sake' in 1582, On 26 Sept. of the same year he was installed prebendary of Lincoln.

Together with Walter Travers [q. v.], Sparke represented the puritans in a conference held at Lambeth in December 1584 with Archbishop Whitgift and the bishop of Winchester, Leicester and Walsingham being present. They protested against the reading of the apocryphal scriptures in churches, against private and lay baptism, the use of the sign of the cross, the celebration of private communions, and the allowance of plurality and non-residence. Neither party was satisfied, but 'the noblemen requested some favour for the ministers,' who, however, were not, although Strype says the contrary in his 'Life of Whitgift,' 'convinced and confirmed.' On 14 Sept. 1585 Sparke preached at Chenies, Buckinghamshire, a funeral sermon on Francis Russell, second earl of Bedford. It was published and reissued in corrected form in 1594. He also preached at the funeral of his patron, lord Grey de Wilton, on 22 Nov. 1593, at Whaddon, Buckinghamshire. In 1591 he published an 'Answere to Mr. John de Albine's [i.e. J. D'Albin de Valsergues] notable Discourse against Heresies,' in which his opponent's complete text is inserted and answered chapter by chapter. He was summoned by James I to the Hampton Court conference in 1603 as 'a nonconformist and a pillar of puritanism.' Wood says that he appeared at it not in a priest's gown or canonical coat, but such, that Turkey merchants wear,' but 'spoke not one word.' The king, however, 'gave him his most gracious countenance,' and effected such, a complete change in his views that Sparke 'did not only for the time following yield himself in his practice to universal conformity, but privately by word or writing, and publickly by his brotherly persuasion.'

Sparke died at Bletchley on 8 Oct. 1616. He was buried in the chancel of the parish church, where a monument with an epitaph (printed in Willis, Survey, iii. 249-50) was erected to him by his eldest son. There are also a figure of his wife and inscriptions relating to his sons. Sparke's portrait, according to Wood, was painted after his death 'on the wall in the school gallery' at Oxford, among the English divines of note there, between those of Dr. John Spenser (1559–1614) [q. v.] of Corpus and Dr. Richard Edes [q. v.] of Christ Church.

Wood calls him a solid divine, well read in the fathers.' He published, besides the works mentioned:

  1. 'A comfortable Treatise for a Troubled Conscience,' and 'A Brief Catechism, with a Form of Prayer for Householders,' 1580, 8vo (London), 1588, 4to (Oxford).
  2. 'Treatise to prove that Ministers and Householders are bound to catechise their Parishioners and Families,' 1588, 8vo.
  3. 'The Highway to Heaven by the clear Light of the Gospel cleansed of a number of most dangerous Stumbling Stones thereinto thrown by Bellarmine and others,' &c., 1597, 8vo.
  4. 'A Brotherly Persuasion to Unity and Uniformity in Judgment and Practice, touching the received and present Ecclesiastical Government, and the authorised Ceremonies of the Church of England, newly corrected and enlarged,' 1607.

Two anonymous answers appeared in 1608, and in 1615 'An Antidote against the Pestiferous Writings of all English Sectaries … in particular against Dr. Sparke,' was published by N. S. Doct. Div.

Sparke married Rose, youngest daughter of John Inkforbye, merchant, of Ipswich. Of their ten children, only five survived her death on 7 Aug. 1615.

Of the sons, William Sparke (1587-1641), born at Bletchley, entered Magdalen Hall, Oxford, in 1603, was elected demy of Magdalen College on 5 June 1606, and was afterwards fellow till 1617. He graduated B.A. in January 1607, M.A. in November 1609, and B.D. on 30 July 1629. He became chaplain to the Duke of Buckingham, and succeeded his father as incumbent of Bletchley, but fell into debt and was forced to quit. He was instituted rector of Chenies on 20 May 1641, but died in the following October. He published 'Vis Naturae et Virtus Vitae, explicates et comparatae ad universum Doctrinae ordinem constituendum,'1612, 8vo; and 'The Mystery of Godliness: a Generall Discourse of the Reason that is in the Christian Religion,' 1629, 4to.

[Works in Brit. Mus. Libr.; Wood's Athenae Oxon. i. 189, ii. 495, Fasti, i. 195; Bloxam's Magdalen Register, iv. 110, 166-70, v. 21, 152-3; Foster's Alumni Oxon. 1500-1714; Neal's Hist. of the Puritans, i. 343-5; Lipscomb's Hist. of Buckinghamshire, iv. 20, 27.]

G. Le G. N.