Arthur Hildersham

v Arthur Hildersham, A. M.—This celebrated divine was descended from the royal family, and the famous Cardinal Poole was his great uncle. He was the son of Mr. Thomas Hildersham, a gentleman of an ancient family, and Ann Poole his second wife. Mrs. Hildersham was daughter to Sir Jeffery Poole, the fourth son of Sir Richard

• Prince's Cbron. Hist. vol. i. p. 200,204.
t Mather's Hist, of New. Eng. b. iii. p. 181.

Poole, cousin german to King Henry VII. Margaret, countess of Salisbury, the wife of Sir Richard Poole, and grandmother to Mr. Hildersham, was the daughter of George duke of Clarence (second brother to King Edward IV.) and Isabella, elder daughter and co-heir of Richard earl of Warwick and Salisbury. Our divine being thus honourably descended, was born at Stcchworth in Cambridgeshirc,Octobcr 6,1563, and educated in Christ's college, Cambridge. His parents were zealous papists; and he was brought up in all the errors and superstitions of popery, and taught to repeat his prayers in Latin. During his abode at the university, he embraced the protestant religion, and was highly esteemed on account of his learning, piety, affability, and inoffensive and witty conversation. His father no sooner knew of the change in his religious sentiments, than he took him from the university, and resolved to send him to Rome, with a view to have him reclaimed, and obtain ecclesiastical preferment. Young Hildersham, however, was fixed in his protestant principles, and refused to go; for which his father cast him off and disinherited him. Thus, he whom God had appointed to be a great sufferer in his cause, began to bear the yoke in his youth; by forsaking parents, friends, and all earthly comforts, and the certain prospect of worldly advancement, for the sake of Christ and the testimony of a good conscience.

In this forlorn situation, God, who comforteth his people in all their tribulations, comforted Mr. Hildersham, through the kind assistance of Mr. John Ireton, then of Cambridge, but afterwards rector of Kegworth in Leicestershire. This gentleman providentially meeting him in London, said to him, u Arthur, why art thou so long from thy books, losing so much time?" "Alas, sir," said he, "I shall go no more to Cambridge;" and then gave him a particular account of his unhappy condition. " Well," said Mr. Ireton, " be not discouraged. Thou hast a noble kinsman, whom I will acquaint with thy case; and I doubt not that he will provide for thee." He accordingly laid his distressed situation before Henry earl of Huntingdon, lord president of the north, whose mother and Mr. Hildersham's mother were brother's children. The noble earl gladly embraced this opportunity of shewing his kindness and generosity. He warmly espoused his cause, sent him again to the university, and afforded him his liberal support. Mr. Hildersham was afterwards chosen fellow of Christ's college by a majority of the fellows; bat Dr. Barwell the master, haying a predilection for his competitor, Mr. (afterwards Dr.) Willet, prevented the confirmation of their election. This illegal proceeding induced Mr. Hildersham to address the following letter to Lord Burleigh, chancellor of the university :• '

" Right Honourable,

" Pleaseth your honour to understand, that about a twelvemonth since, an election being made in Christ's college in Cambridge, and your lordship's humble orator being by the greater part of the fellows lawfully chosen; yet, through the injurious dealing of the master, kept from the admission. It pleased your honour at that time (understanding the equity of my cause, and moved with the very earnest request of my very good earl, the earl of Huntingdon) to direct your letters to the visitors of our college, that they should ratify the lawful proceedings of the greater part of our fellows, and confirm the place whereto I was before according to statute elected: which not being at that time by them performed; and I not presuming hitherto (in the absence of my right honourable patron) to solicit your lordship in that suit; and seeing that the master, with certain of the fellows of our college, is, by reason of his late dealing in another matter, presently to appear before your lordship, is that in regard of the injury by the master done to the statute, and of my lord and patron his earnest request then made unto your honour, and adjudging it as your honoured wisdom shall see it in justice and equity expedient.

" At the election of your lordship's orator, three fellowships were void; that is, Mr. Ireton's, Mr. Watson's, Mr. Barber's: so that the number of master and fellows was eleven, whereof six chose your lordship's orator; and therefore he ought to have been pronounced fellow. For the words of the statute are these, &c.

" Your honour's most humble and daily orator,
" Arthur Hildersham."

This letter, though without date, was written about the year 1586; but the writer obtained no immediate redress; only about the time when he wrote the letter, he was chosen fellow of Trinity-hall, in the same university. He was preferred to this place by the particular advice and direction of Lord Burleigh, most probably as a recompence for his

illegal and unkind usage.* Whatever might be the intention of this noble person, he did not hold his fellowship two years. He entered in the mean time upon his public ministerial function; but be presently received a sudden check, and was convened before the high commission, suspended from his ministry, and deprived of his fellowship, chiefly for preaching occasionally before he took orders. This was done by the particular instigation of Archbishop WhitgiA, who commanded him to make a public recantation, and required him to enter into bonds to appear again on a certain day before the high commission, if he presumed to refuse. The form of his recantation, dated January 10, 1588, was the following: •

" I confess that I have rashly and indiscreetly taken upon u me to preach, not being licensed, nor admitted into holy " orders, contrary to the orders of the church of England; " contrary to the example of antiquity; and contrary to " the direction of the apostle in the Acts: whereby I have " given great and just offence to many; and the more, be" cause I have uttered in my sermons certain impertinent, " and very unfit speeches for the auditory, as moving their " minds to discontent with the state, rather than tending to <f godly edification. For which my presumption and indis" cretion, I am very heartily sorry, and desire you to bear " witness of this my confession, and acknowledging my " said offences."t

It is extremely doubtful whether Mr. Hildersham ever recanted; for he was, previous to the above date, called from the university by the Earl of Huntingdon, and appointed to preach at Ashby-de-la-Zouch in Leicestershire. In this situation he continued to the end of his days, though not without frequent molestations and interruptions. He was a man of great piety, learning, charity, and peaceablcness, and one who loved all pious and learned men, whatever might be their opinions of the discipline and ceremonies. Although he was a minister in the established church, and so far opposed a total separation from it, that he was called the hammer of schismatics; yet " he was," says Mr. Clark, " always, from his first entrance into the ministry, a resolved and conscientious nonconformist;" and he laboured hard, in concert with his brethren, to obtain a more pure reformation of the national church. His honest and decided attachment to what he considered to be the

• Baker's MS. Collec. vol. ii. p. 445. + MS. Register, p. 82*.

truth, exposed him to all those oppressions and cruelties with which he was exercised. It will appear from the following narrative, that he was frequently silenced from his ministry, and treated in many other respects with the utmost barbarity; notwithstanding which he usually attended upon the prayers, sermons, and sacraments, at the established church. All his excellent endowments were insufficient to screen him from the tyrannical proceedings of the ruling ecclesiastics.

In the year 1590 this excellent divine entered upon the Conjugal state, and married the daughter of Mr. Barfoot of Lamborn-hall in Essex. She was his constant companion in all his tribulations, and an excellent comforter under his numerous and painful sufferings. During the first year of his marriage, his faith and patience were put to the trial. He was convened before the high commission, suspended from his ministry, and obliged to enter into bonds, prohibiting him from attending upon the duties of his ministry in any part of England. The year following he was partially restored, but still forbidden to preach at any place south of the river Trent.* This prohibition utterly excluded him from labouring among his beloved people at Ashby. But this restraint was afterwards taken away, when he returned to his stated ministerial charge at that place. In the month of July, 1593, the worthy Earl of Huntingdon presented him to the benefice of Ashby; and he obtained his induction to the living.t Mr. HHdersham was well known at court, and his name was often honourably mentioned in the presence of Queen Elizabeth. On these occasions she used to

• MS. Chronology, Voi. iii. A. D. 1631. p. 8.

+ The following ii a copy of the earl's letter to Mr. Ilildersham, sent with his presentation:—" Since it hath pleased the Lord to call Tho. «' Wyddowes to bis mercye, who was, in opinion, both careful, faithful, " and diligent in bis function, according to his talent 11 wish, with all my " heart, the supply of that place to be such, as that the good which father " Gilbie and he, by the good providence of God, have planted in and about " Ashby, may be continued and increased* Therefore I chuse to present " yoa to that pastoral charge at Ashby; which I trust, by that lime I have " finished my long intended purpose, shall be a sufficient place for any " learned preacher. And with this letter I send you my presentation to " the vicarage, with a letter to the Bishop of Lincoln, who I hope will " easily accept of you, with all honour. Yet let this be your care, to ad" vance the glory of God, by exercise of your ministry, which yon shall do " best when you are in your pastoral charge. I am forced to end. God " ever direct and ever assist you with all necessary graces.

** To the comfort of the poor widow I will take some care. At York, " hastily, this 5 July, 1593.

" Hu, HoNTINGDOir." Nkkol»U Hilt, of LtkaUtshirt, vol. 11. p. 626.

style him cousin Hildersham; therefore, by her majesty's favour, he was released from the above ecclesiastical censure.*

Mr. Hildersham being a divine of great celebrity, was called, in the year 1596, to preach the assize sermon before judge Anderson, at Leicester. Though it is said to have been "a godly and learned sermon, the judge could not conceal his displeasure, even while he was in Anderson was no sooner seated upon the bench, than he required__the_juryto bring an indictment against the preacher, but they refused; " and itwould have been difficult,"" adds our author, " to have found a jury in Leicestershire, that would not have been ashamed of doing it." The angry judge was so mortified and offended, that he brought Mr. Hildersham afterwards into some other troubles; from which, however, the Lord mercifully delivered him. In the year 1598 an attachment was issued from the high commission to apprehend him; but whether he was taken into custody, or he concealed himself till the storm subsided, we have not been able to learn.t

On the accession of King James, numerous petitions were presented to his majesty and the parliament, for a further reformation of the church. Mr. Hildersham, being a leading person among the puritans, and universally beloved by afl the enemies of superstition and oppression, was appointed, with several of his brethren, to present these petitions, and, if required, to defend them by disputation. Among these was the millenary petition, subscribed by upwards of a thousand ministers, " desiring reformation of certain ceremonies and abuses of the church."$ At the Hampton-court conference, our worthy divine, together with Mr. Stephen Egcrton of London, and Mr. Edward Fleetwood of Lancashire, presented a number of requests to his majesty, earnestly desiring a further reformation in ecclesiastical matters.

It was impossible for Mr. Hildersham to act in this public capacity without being particularly noticed. The eyes of the jealous prelates were fixed upon him. Therefore, in the year 1605, he was silenced by the Bishop of Lincoln for nonconformity. Afterwards, he obtained some favour from the Bishop of Lichfield and Coventry, who allowed him to preach occasionally in his diocese, particu

• MS. Chronology, vol. Hi. A. D. 1631. p. 4.

+ Clark's Lives annexed to Martyrologie, p. 114—116.

t Fuller'! Church Hist. b. z. p. 81—83.

larly at the two famous associations at Repton in Derbyshire, and Burton-upon-Trent in Staffordshire. These associations were designed for private conference among the ministers, and the public ministry of the word. They were the means of doing unspeakable good to both ministers and people; and Mr. Hildersham was a chief promoter of them for many years. His fame, indeed, was so great in f those parts, that for many years after, when any one became j remarkable for true piety, he was sure to be stigmatized as ( one of Hildersham's old puritans.* Mr. Hildersham remained under the above ecclesiastical censure upwards of three years. Towards the close of the year 1608, by the fevour of Dr. Barlow^ the new bishop of Lincoln, he was again restored to his ministry, and allowed to preach among his beloved flock at Ashby. It was after his restoration at this time that he entered upon his " Lectures on John iv.," which he continued every Tuesday for upwards of two years.

These lectures were afterwards published, in .1628, and dedicated to Henry earl of Huntingdon, who attended them, when preached in Ashby church, and whose uncle and grandfather had been the author's worthy patrons. The cele/ orated Mn John Cotton, in his epistle to the reader prefixed i to the second edition "of this work, says, " In reading most of the best books extant, the studious reader is wont to select and transcribe the pith of such notes as stand like lights, &c. in the body of the discourse, and in the spirit of the writer. But in this book, I find such variety of choice matter, running throughout every vein of each discourse, and carried along with such strength of sound and deep judgment, and with such life and power of an heavenly spirit; and expressed in such pithy and pregnant words of wisdom, that I knew not what to select, and what to omit, unless I should have transcribed the whole book." Dr. Williams says, " that these lectures discover the author to be a sound divine, an admirable textuary, a profoundly experienced christian, and an excellent teacher."t

He did not, however, enjoy his liberty quite three years. For in November, 1611, he was again silenced, by Neile, bishop of Lichfield and Coventry. The occasion of his lordship's censure was his supposed connexion with Mr. Edward Whiteman of Burton-upon-Trent, denominated a notorious heretic, for which he was afterwards burnt at

• MS. Chronology, vol. Hi. A.D. 1631. p. 10.

♦ Christian Preacher, p. 435.

Lichfield. Though, upon Mr. Hildersham's examination before the bishop and many others, his innocence was made perfectly manifest in open court, he continued under the episcopal censure a long time; and, to the unspeakable grief of many, the two exercises at Repton and Burton-uponTrent were put down. In addition to this, December 8, 1612, letters missive were issued from the high commission, requiring his appearance before the ecclesiastical judges. Upon his appearance at the time and place appointed, he was judicially admonished, then prohibited from ever preaching, catechizing, or attending upon any part of the ministerial function, either in public or private, until he should be lawfully restored. What a pity was it, that so excellent and peaceable a divine should have been struck dumb, even after his innocence had been proved and acknowledged by the bishop in a court of justice!* This, indeed, savoured too much of the tyrannical oppression of antichrist.

When Mr. Hildershnm was restored from the above unchristian sentence, we have not been able to learn. But in the year 1615, he was again prosecuted in the high commission ; and, for refusing the oath ex officio, was committed first to the Fleet, then to the King's-bencb, where he continued a long time. During his tedious and painful confinement, a certain nobleman made application to Archbishop Abbot for his release; when the angry archbishop protested, " that unless he would submit to what the commissioners required, he should die and rot in prison."t Abbot, it is said, was a prelate of great learning and piety; but he was esteemed a puritan in doctrine; and in discipline, too remiss for one placed at the head of the church.} But, surely, this did not appear, at least on the present occasion. Mr. Hildersham, upon giving bond to appear when called, was at length released from confinement.

In September, 1616, the commissioners sat at Ashby, to examine certain witnesses against Mr. Hildersham and his two friends, Mr. Thomas Dighton and Mr. John HolM

• Clark's Uve!, p. 117, IIS.

t MS. Chronology, vol. iii. A. D. I«S1. p. 14.

t Granger's Biog. Hist. vol. i. p. 841.

^ The nonconformists, both ministers and private christians, were now barbarously prosecuted in the ecclesiastical coorts; among whom were these gentlemen, both natives of Ashby. One of them was imprisoned in the Gatehouse, the other in the Fleet t and having endured confinement for ■ome time, they were brought forth, November 8I, 1616, under the care of their keepers, when they received the following sentence ia the high com

The witnesses against Mr. Hildersham affirmed upon their oaths, what all the parish knew to be notoriously false, and even declared by what motives he was actuated in what was charged against him. But upon this most glaring false witness, the court proceeded to censure him as follows:— , He was pronounced refractory and disobedient to the orders, rites and ceremonies of the church of England ; and a schismatic and schismatical person, and well worthy of severe punishment. Also, because he was deemed the ringleader of all schismatical persons in that part of the country, he was fined two thousand pounds, excommunicated, degraded from the ministry, ordered to be taken and cast into prison, commanded to make a public recantation in such form as the court should appoint, and, to finish the business, he was condemned in costs of suit.* If any impartial judge were to form an opinion of Mr. Hildersham s crime from this heavy sentence, he would conclude the single sin of nonconformity, at least in the opinion of the ecclesiastical judges, to have been much greater than open drunkenness, swearing, adultery, or any such atrocious acts of immorality, which, though very common among the clergy of those times, were scarcely ever noticed. What a happy circumstance is it that we live in better days! in which it is generally acknowledged, that, in religious matters, every man ought to act according to the persuasion

mission court:—" It appeared to the court, that the said Dlghfon and Holt, being laymen, had, in opposition to the state ecclesiastical, kept sundry conventicles or exercises of religion in private houses, within the parish of Ashby*de-la-Zouch | and held public disputations against the orders, rites and ceremonies of the chnrch, and dissuaded others from conformity to the tame. And because Mr. Hacket their minister, (meaning the person appointed to the place,) was conformable, they have refused to come to church to hear him preach, or read divine service, or to bring their children to be baptized, or their wives to be churched i but, leaving their own parishes, went to other parishes to hear unconformable ministers, and carried many of the parish of Ashby after them, to the great encourageBent of schismatical and refractory persons; and, being often admonished la this court, they refused, and do still refuse, to join with the christian congregation in receiving the holy communion kneeling: and having made common purses, and sundry collections, for maintaining, abetting, and encouraging such schismatical persons in their obstinacy and disobedience to his majesty's laws ecclesiastical; they are, therefore, pronounced schismatics and schismatical persons, and worthy to be severely punished, and were accordingly fined a thousand pounds a piece, pronounced excommunicate, ordered to be publicly denounced, to make their submission in three several places, condemned in costs of suit, and sent back to prison; but how long they continued," says our author, " I am not able to learn." This is one instance of the persecution of laymen for their nonconformity.— VS. Remarks, p. 652.

• Clark's Lives, p. 118,119.

of his own mind. " If we dissent from one another in these things," says Mr. Hildersham, " it most be without bitterness, and in brotherly love. The odious names of puritans, formalists, schismatics, or time-servers, ought not to be heard among brethren."*

Mr. Hildersham, having heard of the above cruel senfence, wisely, and for a long time, concealed himself. At length, however, he wrote to Lady Fielding, desiring her to use her influence to get his fine taken off; or, if that could not be done, to obtain a mitigation of it so far as to be allowed to pay a certain sum annually, being all that he was able to spare. He sent a petition to the same effect to the Earl of Suffolk, and another to the high commission.t Several processes were in the mean time issued from the exchequer, to inquire into his estates, but none could be found. He therefore compounded the matter with his prosecutors, by paying a great sum of money, and was released from the heavy fine.

This, indeed, was not the end of his troubles. For in the year 1618, a pursuivant from the Bishop of London violently broke into his study, and carried away many of his valuable books. The good man petitioned his lordship for them to be restored; out whether they ever were, my author adds, " I have not been able to learn."f By a license, dated June 20, 1625, from the archbishop, he obtained liberty to preach within the dioceses of London, Lincoln, and Coventry and Lichfield; and soon after entered once more upon his public charge at Ashby. In the month of September this year, he commenced his course of lectures on Psalm li.,* afterwards published with this title^ " CLII. Lectures upon Psalm LI. preached at Ashby-de-laZouch in Leicestershire," 1635. This work " is a rich mine of experimental and practical divinity;" but not quite so concise and finished as those on John iv.^

Notwithstanding the above numerous interruptions and oppressions, Mr. Hildersham had once more to pass through the fire of persecution. March 25, 1630, for refusing to read the public service in the hood and surplice, he was again silenced by the tyrannizing ecclesiastics. This suspension, however, did not continue very long; for, August 2, 1631, he was restored to his beloved ministry, and so

• Hildersham's Lectures on John, p. SOI. Edit. 1632.
+ MS. Chronology, vol. iii. A. D. 1631. p. 16.
Ibid.—Clark's Lives, p. 120.
Williams's Christian Preacher, p. 431,435.
VoL. II. 2 C

continued preaching till December 27th following, when h preached his last sermon.*

Thus our pious and learned divine knew by painfu experience the truth of that doctrine which he delivered t the people. " Every faithful minister," says he, " wh labourcth to win souls to God, shall be sure to be we] rewarded, how ill soever an unthankful world may rewan him.. If we judge by sense and reason, we shall hardly b able to conceive how it can be true; for no kind of mei ever seems to be more neglected of God in this life, thai faithful ministers. In all ages these men have been in mucl trouble, and their enemies have prevailed against them and that oftentimes even unto death. But," says he,'" if wi

a special care to provide for faithful ministers; and tha uone have such promises of protection and deliverance fron trouble. If it please the Lord to let his ministers suffer, i is," saith he, " either because their testimony is finished; o because God will receive more honour by their suffering and constant confession of his truth, than by their peace: a: 6aith the apostle of his own troubles: / would, brethren, yt should understand, that the things which have happened unU me, have fallen out rather unto the furtherance of thi gospel."*

This excellent servant of Christ discovered in his las sickness very becoming submission to the will of God. Hi! conversation was spiritual, holy, and heavenly. He gave t solemn charge to his son, to take heed unto the flock o: Christ; and on the Lord's day, while his son was at prayei with him, he closed his eyes in peace, and entered upon th< joy of his Lord, March 4, 1631, aged sixty-eight years, Mr. Hildersham preached at Ashby upwards of forty-threi years, excepting the intervals of his suspension for nonconformity. He was a pious, learned, and useful preacher. Fuller styles him " a worthy divine, and a just and upright man," but has incorrectly classed him among the fellows and learned writers of Christ's college, Cambridge.) Echard denominates him " a great and shining light of the puritan party," and observes, " that he was justly celebrated for his singular learning and piety.Lilly, the astrologer, who was educated at Ashby school, says, " He

• Clark's Lives, p. 122. ,

+ Hildersham on John, p. 882—284.

t Fuller's Worthies, part i. p. 159.—Hist, of Cam. p. 92.

\ Ecbard'i Hist, of Eng. vol. ii. p. 98.

look into it'with a spiritual

shall find that God hat] wu an excellent textuary, of exemplary life, pleasant in discourse, a strong enemy to the Brownists, and dissented not from the church of England in any article of faith; but only about wearing the surplice, baptizing with the cross, and kneeling in the sacrament. Most of the people in the town were directed by his judgment, and so continued in it"*

He was a divine of great moderation, and of a most amiable christian spirit. He used to say, " that he never heard any faithful preacher of the gospel, however mean his talents might be, but he could discover some gift in him that was wanting in himself, and could receive some profit from his preaching." He died in perfect satisfaction with his nonconformity, as appears from his last will and testament, in which were these words:—" I do hereby " declare and protest, that I do continue and end my days " in the very same faith and judgment, touching all points " of religion, as I have ever been known to hold and profess; " and which I have, both by my doctrine and practice, and M by my sufferings also, given testimony unto."t The excellent Mr. Samuel Hildersham, ejected in 1662, was his son.t Mr. Hildersham's remains were interred in the chancel of Ashby church, where, on the south side, is the following monumental inscription erected to his memory.^


Near to this place lieth interred the body
of Arthur Hildersham,
honourably descended from Sir Richard Poole,
by his wife Margaret Countess of Salisbury;
bat more honoured for his sweet and ingenuous disposition,
his singular wisdom in settling peace,
advising in secular affairs,
and satisfying doubts,
his abundant charity,
" and especially for his extraordinary knowledge and
judgment in the Holy Scriptures,
his painful and zealous preaching,
together with his firm and lasting constancy
in the truth he professed.
He lived in this place
for the most part of forty-three years and six months,
with great success in his ministry,
love and reverence of all sorts,
and died with much honour and lamentation,
March the 4th, 1631.

• Lilly's Life and Times, p. 6. Edit. 1774.

t Clark's Lives, p. 120. t Palmer's Noncon. Men. vol. ill. p. 147. S Nichols's Hilt, of Leicestershire, vol. ii. p. 622.

The character given of Mr. Hildersham, in the above monumental inscription, is confirmed by one of his contemporaries ; who says, " that the loss which the town of Ashby sustained by his death was very great; for he was a peace-maker among his neighbours, and the patron of the poor. By his great wisdom and care, wickedness was checked, and godliness was promoted. He was a friend to every one in a good cause; and it was his constant delight to be serviceable to all. He left a precious name behind him, and had epistles of commendation written in the hearts of the people."*

In addition to the two excellent volumes already specified, Mr. Hildersham was author of " Lectures on Psalm xxxv.," published in 1632; and " A Treatise on the Lord's Supper." Of this work, Mr. John Cotton says, " Those questions and answers furnish a christian with a more proper view of that spiritual duty, than any other book in any language, that 1 know, in so small a compass." It is commonly bound with a treatise on the same subject by Mr. Bradshaw.t

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