George Abbot

George Abbot

George Abbot

George Abbot (1562-1633), Archbishop of Canterbury, founder of Abbot’s Hospital (an almshouse), translator of the King James Bible.

Little has been written of George Abbot: three books, a PhD theses and an article in a learned journal. He wrote more, than has been written about him.

Tudor Guildford c 1617 consisted of a High Street, houses lining the High Street, three churches and a medieval bridge crossing the river. [see George Abbot’s Guildford]

Summer of 1652 (or so the myth goes), Alice (who was carrying George) had a longing for pike. She also had a dream that if she ate pike her son would grow to become a great man.

The Abbot’s lived in a house by the river (a picture of which can be found in Abbot’s Hospital) adjacent to the medieval bridge.

The morning following her dream, Alice cast her pail into the River Wey to draw water. Into her pail lept a pike.

On hearing of the tale, people offered to be sponsors of the child at the baptismal which took place at St Nicolas Church. His God parents sponsored him through school and university.

George attended the Royal Grammar School at the top of the High Street, then Oxford.

Was it George? There were six sons of Alice and Maurice.

Robert Abbot went on to become Bishop of Salisbury.

Maurice Abbot (named after his father) was a founder of the East India Company, Alderman, then Sherrif and finally Lord Mayor of London.

The family grew up in a time of religious upheaval. Marice was a local clothier.

A memorial to Maurice and Alice can be found in Holy Trinity Church. Centrepiece of the memorial is a lectern with what is assumed to be a Bible.

This was strange time. During this period Guildford produced five bishops!

John Parkhurst studied the Coverdale Bible and Tyndale Bible, even though banned at the time. For a while he was exiled to Zurich. He was Bishop of Norwich. On his death, his library was bequethed to Guildford and housed at the Royal Grammar School. His library contained many radical books. These would have been seen and read by George Abbot as he was a pupil at the school at the time.

The labels we apply today did not apply at the time, but if we were to apply labels, then George Abbot was a Calvanist and a Puritan. He was never a parish priest but believed in Bishops. He was primarily an academic.

He wrote Briefe Description of the Whole Worlde. This has recently been republished with the Master of Abbot’s Hospital as editor.

He gave 30 lectures on the Book of Jonah, these were then published in 1600 as Expostion on the Prophet Jonah.

George Abbot became Master of an Oxford College, Dean of Westminster.

He had as patron Thomas Sackville, Earl of Dorset.

It was during this time that he engaged in a bitter feud with William Laud, who he tried to stop getting a Mastership of an Oxford College. It was a bitter feud that was to last a lifetime.

George Abbot believed in predestination, that is only the elect go to heaven, the rest go to hell.

He acquired a new patron George Home, Earl of Dunbar. Chancellor of the Exchequer and a man who had the ear of James I.

George Abbot and the Earl of Dunbar put the case for Bishops in Scotland.

1609 appointed as Bishop of Coventry.

1610 appointed as Bishop of London.

Lancelot Andrewes was expected to be appointed as the next Archsbishop of Canterbury, but to the surpise of everyone, James I (acting on the advice of Dunbar) appointed George Abbot.

It was not a popular choice. The Puritans suspected him, the Catholics (with good cause) hated him. The Bishops did not like it, neither did the clergy.

George Abbot was enthroned as Archbishop in 1611, the same year that saw the publication of the King James Bible.

Six companies, two in London, two in Cambridge, two in Cambridge were appointed by James 1 to produce a new Bible. George Abbot was a member of the Oxford company.

As Archbishop, George Abbot set up a network of spies and informers. He hunted down Catholics. Catholic priests were executed.

March 1612 the last burning of a priest for heresy.

George Abbot opposed marriages to Catholics. This angered the King and eventually led to a rift between George Abbot and James I.

He opposed the marriage of Prince Charles to a Catholic.

There was no warmth between George Abbot and Charles I.

George Abbot refused to licence a sermon that proposed more money should go to the King.

Ironically George Abbot was in touch with the mood in the country, but that did not help.

George Abbot was banished to the Manor of Ford in Kent. He was stripped of his authority. His duties were now exercised by William Laud, his lifelong enemy.

1621 George Abbot killed a gamekeeper. It was an accident. James I said no big deal. But he fell foul of Canon Law, thou shalt not kill. It cast a shadow over what was left of his life.

He spent the remainder of his life in Croydon, Archbishop in name only.

He died in Croydon, where his funeral took place. He lies entombed in Holy Trinity Church in Guildford.

The legacy of George Abbot was twofold.

Abbot’s Hospital (1619), an almshouse for 24 men and women of Guildford. Five farms were also gifted to provide an income. Adjacent was a Manufactuary to help the ailing wool trade. It had four farms to provide an income. [see George Abbot and Abbot’s Hospital]

George Abbot was one of the translators of the King James Bible. In that role he contributed to the English language memorable phrases.

Turn the world upside down
scales fall from your eyes
no small stir

Was he popular? No. But he would say he listened to his God and that was who he obeyed.

Based on an excellent talk given by Catherine Ferguson at St Nicolas Church in Guildford. Part of the King James Bible Celebrations 2011.

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2 Responses to “George Abbot”

  1. kim Says:

    was he marrried or not

  2. keithpp Says:

    As far as I am aware, George Abbot was not married.

    His life was the church and God.

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