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Barnaby Benison

Barnaby Benison was minister in London, a divine of good learning, and suspended and imprisoned for several years, by Bishop Aylmer, on pretence of some irregularity in his marriage. The bishop charged him with being married in an afternoon, and in the presence of two or three hundred people, by Mr. Field, a nonconformist. For this singular crime, in the year 1579, he was committed to the Gatehouse, where he continued till towards the close of the year 1584. Mr. Strype, with a design to blacken his memory, observes, " that he studied for some time at Geneva; and upon his return to England, was fraught with innovation and disobedience." He undoubtedly was dis

» Strype's Whitgift, p. 160.

+ Lord Burleigh was a decided friend to the persecuted puritans, and often screened them from the inhuman proceedings of the prelates, or procured their release from bonds and imprisonment. On account of his great abilities, indefatigable application, amazing capacity for business, and immoveable integrity, he is deservedly placed at the head of our English statesmen. His capacity for business appears from the following passage in his life:—" Besides all business in council, or other weighty causes, and " such as were answered by word of mouth, there was not a day in term " wherein he received not threescore, fourscore, or a hundred petitions, " which be commonly read that night, and gave every man an answer the " next morning as be went to the hall. Hence the excellence of his " memory was greatly admired; for when any of these petitioners told " him their names, or what countrymen they were, he presently entered " into the merit of his request, and having discussed it, gave him his "answer." This was his practice towards persons in all circumstance*. He would answer the poorest, as well as others, from his own mouth. When at any time he was forced to keep his chamber, or his bed, he ordered that poor suitors should send in their petitions sealed ; and upon every petition he caused his answer to be written, and subscribed it with his own hand. " He was prayed for by the poor, honoured by the rich, feared by the

" bad, and loved by the good." Biog. Britan. vol. iii. p. 801.

Edit. 1778

obedient to the tyrannical proceedings of the bishops. Our author adds, " that he fixed his station in London, refused to go to church, gathered conventicles, and sought to promote schism and confusion in the city. That the bishop finding in him unspeakable disobedience, and he refusing the oath usually tendered by the high commission, (meaning the oath ex officio, by which he would have become his own accuser,) was committed to prison. And," our learned historian asks, " what could the bishop have done less ?"•

It is not very difficult to find out many things, which his lordship might not have done less than this, even admitting that Mr. Benison was deserving of punishment. Four or five years' confinement in prison is a penalty of no small magnitude, and appears greatly disproportionate to any crime with which he was charged. And, indeed, Mr. Strype himself intimates as much, in the very next words: " But," says he, " it seems the bishop overshot himself, and did not proceed so circumspectly in the imprisonment of him for so long a time. For Mr. Benison's cause being brought before the lords of the council, the bishop was judged to have dealt too hardly with him; for which, therefore, he received a reprimand."+

Mr. Benison having suffered so long a confinement in prison, applied both to the queen and council; and in the statement of his own case, he declares concerning his marriage, the irregularity of which was the crime alleged against him, " That he had invited only forty persons to the solemnity j and only thirty attended: that he was married in the morning, and according to law: that when the bishop sent for him, charging him with sedition, he cleared himself to his lordship's satisfaction ; but that after he went home, he gave a private order under his own hand for him to be apprehended and sent to the Gatehouse; and that he was there shut up in a dungeon eight days, without knowing the cause of his imprisonment." Moreover, when Mr. Benison was first apprehended and carried to prison, he was plundered of a great part of his household furniture; his valuable library was utterly spoiled and taken away, and he suffered great losses in various other ways.} Dr. Hammond, and his faithful friend Mr. John Fox, -"vho were

• Strype's Ajlmer, p. 209,210. + Ibid.

t Ibid. p. 211,212.

both at the wedding, and witnessed the whole proceeding, went to the bishop, and assured him, that he was faultless in those things charged against him. But his lordship remained inflexible, and-would not release him without such bonds for his good behaviour and future appearance, as the prisoner was unable to procure. Mr. Benison, in his letter to the queen and council, concludes in the following moving language:*

" Thus I continue," says he, " separated from my wife before 1 had been married two weeks, to the great trouble of her friends and relations, and to the staggering of the patient obedience of my wife. For since my imprisonment, his lordship has been endeavouring to separate us, whom God, in the open presence of his people, has joined together. Wherefore, I most humbly beseech your godly honours, for the everlasting love of God, and for the pity you take upon God's true protcstants and his poor people, to be a means that my pitiful cry may be heard, and my just cause with some credit be cleared, to the honour of God and her majesty, whom for ever I esteem more than all the bishop's blessings or bitter cursings: and that I, being now half dead, may recover again to get a poor living with the little learning which God has given me, to his glory, to the discharge of some part of my duty, and to the profit of my country." This was Mr. Benison's impartial statement of his own case ; upon the reception of which, the lords of the council were so moved, that they sent the bishop the follow* ing letter: t

" Hampton-court, November 14, 1584. " Whereas, Barnaby Benison, minister, has given us to " understand, the great hinderance he has received by your " hard dealing with him, and his long imprisonment, for " which if he should bring his action against you of false " imprisonment, he would by law recover damages, which " would touch your lordship's credit. We have, therefore, M thought fit to require your lordship to use some consi" deration towards him, in giving him a reasonable sum of u money to repay the wrong you have done unto him, " and to supply the hinderance he hath incurred by your " hard dealings with him. Therefore, praying your '* lordship to deal with the poor man, that he may have " occasion to turn his complaint into a good report unto

" us of your charitable dealing. We bid you farewell* " Signed,

" Amb. Warwick, Walter Mildmay.

" Fr. Bedford, Christ. Hatton,

" Robert Leicester, Fr. Walsingham."
" Charles Howard,

Upon the bishop's reception of the above letter, he returned this answer:—u I beseech your lordships to " consider, that it is a rare example thus to press a bishop, u for his zealous service to the queen and the peace of the u church, especially as the man was found worthy to be " committed for refusing to go to church,and other instances u of nonconformity, to say nothing of his contemptuous u behaviour towards me. Nevertheless, since it pleaseth " your lordships to require some reasonable sum of money, " J pray you consider my poor estate and great charges, u together with the great vaunt the man will make of his u conquest over a bishop. I hope, therefore, your lordships " will be favourable to me, and refer it to myself, either to u bestow upon him some small benefice, or otherwise to help " him as opportunity offers. Or if this shall not satisfy the " man, or not content your lordships, leave him to the trial " of the law, which, I hope, will not be so plain for him as " he taketh it. Surely, my lords, this and the like must " greatly discourage me in this poor service of mine in the M commission; wherein, if I seem remiss, I pray you impute " it to the troubles and infirmities of old age."#

The manner in which the bishop answered the accusations against him, is a sufficient evidence that his conduct could not be defended. What reparation Mr. Benison obtained for the injurious treatment he received, or whether any, does not appear. But he was certainly too wise to go to law with a bishop of the high commission court, who having but little conscience, exercised much cruelty; and who, notwithstanding his poor estates and great charges,'\cft behind him at his death several very large estates, properties out upon mortgage, and above sixteen thousand pounds in money.+ These were immense riches in those days. Mr. Strypet represents Aylmer's ill treatment of Mr. Benison as

* MS. Register, p. 589.

+ Strype's Aylmer, p. 17S, 194.—Ncal's Puritan?, vol. i. p. S84. t Strype's Aylmer, p. 205.

" Bromley, Chan.
" Wil. Burghley,

Francis Knolles.
James Croft,

the slander of his enemies; as if his lordship had dealt with him only according to his deserts; but what degree of justice there is in this representation, the foregoing statement or facts will best determine.