Wright, Robert (1560-1643) (DNB00)

WRIGHT, ROBERT (1560–1643), bishop successively of Bristol and of Lichfield and Coventry, was born of humble parentage at St. Albans, Hertfordshire, in 1560. He matriculated from Trinity College, Oxford, in 1574, and was elected next year to a scholarship there. He graduated B.A. on 23 June 1580, and became a fellow on 25 May 1581, subsequently proceeding M.A. on 7 July 1584, B.D. on 6 April 1592, and D.D. on 2 July 1597. In 1596 he edited the volume of Latin elegies called ‘Funebria’ by members of the university on the death of Sir Henry Unton [q. v.]; two of the elegies were from his own pen. He held many country livings, although he seldom visited them. From 15 Aug. 1589 to 16 Nov. 1619 he was rector of Woodford, Essex; he became rector of St. John the Evangelist, London (1589–90); of St. Katherine, Coleman Street, London, in 1591; of Brixton Deverell, Wiltshire, on 29 Nov. 1596; of Bourton-on-the-Water, Gloucestershire; of Hayes, Middlesex, 4 April 1601; and vicar of Sonning, Berkshire, 13 June 1604. In 1601 Wright was made canon residentiary and treasurer of Wells, and for some years often resided there. He obtained an introduction to the court, and was appointed chaplain to Queen Elizabeth. He was afterwards nominated chaplain-in-ordinary to James I. In March 1610 Carleton wrote that Oxford men had lately proved the most prominent among preachers at court, but of them Wright was reckoned ‘the worst’ (Nichols, Progresses, ii. 287).

On 20 April 1613 Wright was appointed by Dorothy, widow of Nicholas Wadham [q. v.], the first warden of the newly established Wadham College, Oxford. He resigned the office three months later (20 July) because the foundress refused his request for permission to marry. He appears to have withdrawn to his vicarage at Sonning. In 1619 he added to his many benefices that of Rattingdon, Essex. He received ample compensation for his surrender of the wardenship of Wadham by his appointment early in 1622 to the bishopric of Bristol. With the bishopric he continued to hold his stall at Wells. He acted as an executor of the will of Sir John Davies [q. v.], which was dated 6 April 1625 and proved on 13 May 1626. Six years later he was translated to the see of Lichfield and Coventry, where he succeeded Thomas Morton (1564–1659) [q. v.]

Wright was reputed to be of covetous disposition. According to Wood, he was ‘much given up to the affairs of the world,’ He impoverished in his own interests the episcopal property at Bristol, and acquired for himself, among other landed property, the manor of Newnham Courtney in Oxfordshire at a cost of 18,000l. While bishop of Lichfield and Coventry he is said to have reaped large profits out of the sale of timber on the episcopal estate of Eccleshall, Staffordshire. But he caused the fabrics of many churches in his dioceses to be renovated and improved the services, enjoining the use of copes and due attention to music.

Wright acted with Laud in the crises of 1640 and the following years. In May 1640 he signed the new canons, which were adopted in convocation. On 27 Oct. 1641 the House of Commons marked its resentment of the action of himself and other bishops by voting their exclusion from parliament. In December Wright joined eleven of the bishops in signing a letter to the king in which they complained of intimidation while on their way to the House of Lords, and protested against the transaction of business in their absence. The House of Commons caused the twelve bishops to be arrested in anticipation of their impeachment on a charge of high treason. Wright, with nine colleagues, was committed to the Tower. He was brought to the bar of the House of Lords in February 1641–2. He declined to plead, but made an impressive speech. He appealed to the members from his present and past dioceses to judge him by their ‘knowledge of his courses.’ He desired to ‘regain the esteem which he was long in getting, but had lost in a moment,’ ‘for if I should outlive, I say not my bishopric, but my credit, my grey hairs and many years would be brought with sorrow to the grave.’ He was released on heavy bail after eighteen weeks' imprisonment, and was ordered to return to his diocese. He withdrew to one of his episcopal residences, Eccleshall Hall in Staffordshire. The mansion was garrisoned for the king by ‘Dr. Bird, a civilian,’ but Sir William Brereton laid siege to the place in the autumn of 1643, and while the house was still invested the bishop died (August 1643).

He left an only son, Calvert Wright, who was baptised at Sonning in 1620, and became a gentleman commoner of Wadham College, Oxford, in 1634, graduating B.A. in February 1636–7. He wasted the fortune left him by his father, and died a poor debtor in the king's bench prison, Southwark, in the winter of 1666.

There is a portrait of the bishop in the hall of Wadham College, Oxford.

Two contemporaries named Robert Wright should be distinguished from the bishop. Robert Wright (1553?–1596?) matriculated at Cambridge as a sizar of Trinity College on 2 May 1567, and became a scholar there. In 1570–1 he graduated B.A. (M.A. 1574), and was elected a fellow. He was incorporated M.A. of Oxford on 9 July 1577. He was appointed tutor of Robert Devereux, second earl of Essex, before the earl went to Cambridge, and accompanied him thither. After Essex left the university Wright became head of his household. When Essex was made the queen's master of the horse, Wright was appointed clerk of the stables (Addit. MS. 5755, fol. 143). He was a man of learning, and Thomas Newton (1542?–1607) [q. v.] complimented him on his many accomplishments in an epigram addressed ‘Ad eruditiss. virum Robertum Wrightum, nobiliss. Essexiæ comitis famulum primarium.’ Latin verses prefixed to Peter Baro's ‘Prælectiones in Jonam’ (1579) are also assigned to Wright. He died about 1596 (cf.Devereux, Lives of the Devereux Earls of Essex).

Another Robert Wright (1556?–1624) was son of John Wright of Wright's Bridge, Essex. He matriculated as a pensioner of Trinity College, Cambridge, on 21 May 1571, and graduated B.A. 1574, and M.A. 1578. He was an ardent Calvinist, and received ordination at Antwerp from Villiers or Cartwright in the Genevan form. At Cambridge he became acquainted with Robert, second lord Rich, and about 1580 acted as his chaplain in his house, Great Leighs, Essex, where he held religious meetings (Strype, Aylmer, pp. 54 seq.). He was incorporated M.A. of Oxford on 11 July 1581. After several efforts on Bishop Aylmer's part to obtain the arrest of Wright, he and his patron were examined in the court of ecclesiastical commission in October 1581 in the presence of Lord Burghley. It was shown that Wright had asked, in regard to the solemnisation of the queen's accession day (17 Nov.), ‘if they would make it an holy day, and so make our queen an idol.’ Wright was committed to the Fleet prison. Next year the prison-keeper on his own authority permitted him to visit his wife in Essex, but complaint was made of this lenient treatment to Lord Burghley. Wright appealed for mercy to Burghley, who replied by informing him of the charges brought against him. Wright sent a voluminous answer (Strype, Annals, iii. ii. 228). He seems to have returned to prison and remained there till September 1582, when he declared his willingness to subscribe to ‘his good allowance of the ministry of the church of England and to the Book of Common Prayer.’ After giving sureties for his future conformity, he was released. He was subsequently rector of Dennington, Suffolk, from 1589 till his death in 1624.

[Wood's Athenæ Oxon. iv. 800, Fasti, i. 215; Cooper's Athenæ Cantabr. ii. 223; Laud's Works; Gardiner's Registers of Wadham College; Beresford's Lichfield in Diocesan Histories, p. 235; Foster's Alumni Oxon. 1500–1714; Strype's Works.]

S. L.

Dictionary of National Biography, Errata (1904), p.285
N.B.— f.e. stands for from end and l.l. for last line

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