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George Abbot

Bishop of Coventry & Lichfield
Bishop of London
Archbishop of Canterbury
Born: 19th October 1562 at Guildford, Surrey
Died: 5th August 1633 at Croydon, Surrey

George Abbot was born in 1562 in Guildford in Surrey, where he was educated before entering Balliol College, Oxford. He gained a great reputation at Oxford as an advocate of the views held by the more moderate Puritans and was elected Master of University College, Dean of Winchester and Vice-Chancellor of the University.

In 1604, he was engaged upon the new translation of the Bible. He accompanied Lord Dunbar to Scotland, in 1608, with the view of restoring the Scottish episcopate. The following year, he became Bishop of Coventry & Lichfield and, a few months later, was translated to the Bishopric of London. His elevation to the Primacy followed in 1611.

Abbot was a man of strong principles, but narrow outlook. He could act with great firmness when he felt conscientiously obliged to follow a difficult course, as in the case of Lady Essex's divorce, yet he was strangely unwilling to allow for other's liberty of conscience and he sought to suppress opinions which he disliked by measures of excessive harshness. His aversion to Popery was such that he was even ready to foment a war with Spain. On the other hand, he addressed some separatists, who were brought before him, with great severity: "You do show yourselves the most ungrateful to God, to the King and to us, the fathers of the Church."

In 1621, he had the misfortune to shoot a keeper during a hunting party at Bramshill Park in Hampshire. It was clear that the Archbishop was in no way to blame for the accident, but it afforded his enemies a fresh ground of attack and it cast a cloud over his latter years.

Abbot found little favour in the eyes of King Charles I and his advisers. A feud had existed between Abbot and Laud from early days. In 1627, he was suspended from the exercise of his archiepiscopal functions and the sequestration lasted for more than a year.

Notwithstanding the sternness of his disposition, he showed great liberality in the relief of individual cases of distress and in other benefactions, especially to Oxford Colleges and to the hospital which he had built at Guildford. He died in 1633.

Edited from G.M. Bevan's "Portraits of the Archbishops of Canterbury" (1908).      Copyright ©1999, LLC