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William Nicholson (1591–1672)

A Westminster Puritan and minister of the Gospel.

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His Works:

The Works of William Nicholson available in old English:

1. A plain Exposition of the Church Catechism, 1655 (re-issued in the library of Anglo-catholic theology).
2. Apology for the Discipline of the Ancient Church, 1659.
3. Plain Exposition of the Apostles’ Creed (dedicated to Bishop Sheldon), 1661.
4. Easy Analysis of the whole Book of Psalms, 1662.


Biography of William Nicholson (1591-1672):

William Nicholson (1591-1672), bishop of Gloucester, the son of Christopher Nicholson, a rich clothier, was born at Stratford St. Mary, Suffolk, on 1 Nov. 1591. He became a chorister of Magdalen College, Oxford, in 1598, and received his education in the grammar school attached to the college. He graduated with a B.A. in 1611, and an M.A. 1615. He was a bible clerk of the college from 1612 to 1615. In 1614 he was appointed to the college living of New Shoreham, Sussex. He held the office of chaplain at Magdalen from 1616 to 1618. He was also chaplain to Henry, earl of Northumberland, during his imprisonment in the Tower, from 1606 to 1621, on suspicion of complicity in the gunpowder plot, and was tutor to his son, Lord Percy. “Delighting in grammar,” in 1616 he was appointed master of the free school at Croydon, where his discipline and powers of instruction were much celebrated. He held the post till 1629, when he retired to Wales, having been presented to the rectory of Llandilo-Vawr, in Carmarthenshire, in 1626. In 1644 he was made archdeacon of Brecon. The year before he had been nominated a member of the assembly of divines, probably through the interest of the Earl of Northumberland, but he speedily withdrew, together with the greater part of the Episcopalian clergy (Neal, Puritans, iii. 47). When deprived of his preferments by the parliament he maintained himself by keeping a private school, which he carried on in partnership with Jeremy Taylor [q. v.] and William Wyatt [q. v.], afterwards precentor of Lincoln, at Newton Hall (“Collegium Newtoniense”), in the parish of Llanfihangel, in Carmarthenshire. Heber says ‘their success, considering their remote situation and the distresses of the times, appears to have been not inconsiderable ‘ (Heber, Life of Jeremy Taylor, vol. i. pp. xxvi, cccxiii). Wood speaks of “several youths most loyally educated there, and afterwards sent to the universities.” One of these was Judge John Powell [q. v.], “who bore a distinguished part in the trial of the seven bishops” (ib.) How long this scholastic partnership lasted is uncertain, but it came to an end long before the Restoration. Meanwhile, like his friend Taylor, he actively employed his pen in the defence of the doctrine and discipline of the church of England, and in illustration of her teaching. His “Exposition of the Apostles’ Creed” and “Exposition of the Church Catechism” were both written for the instruction of his former parishioners at Llandilo.

At the Restoration Nicholson returned to his parish, and resumed his former preferments, to which was added a residentiary canonry at St. Davids. In 1661 he was consecrated bishop of Gloucester by Sheldon, bishop of London, and Frewen, archbishop of York, on 6 Jan., in Henry VII’s chapel. He is said to have owed his appointment to Lord Clarendon, whom Wood maliciously insinuates he had bribed with 1,000l. (Wood, Athenae Oxon. iv. 825) . Such a charge, however, is entirely inconsistent with all we know of Nicholson’s character; his ‘unshaken loyalty and bold and pertinacious defense of the church during its most helpless and hopeless depression had given him strong and legitimate claims on the patronage of the government’ (Heber, Life of Taylor, p. cccxiii). Nicholson himself, in the preface to his ‘Exposition of the Church Catechism,’ with greater probability ascribes his promotion to Sheldon. The revenue of the see being small, he was allowed to hold his archdeaconry and canonry together with the living of Bishops Cleeve in commendam. He preached in Westminster Abbey on 20 Dec. 1661, at the funeral of Bishop Nicolas Monk, brother of the Duke of Albe marle, who had been consecrated with him in the preceding January. Evelyn, who was present, describes it as ‘a decent solemnity’ (Evelyn, Diary, i. 331). He was appointed to the sinecure rectory of Llansantfraid-yn-Mechan in Montgomeryshire in 1663. According to Baxter, though not a commissioner, he attended the meetings of the Savoy conference, and ‘spake once or twice a few words calmly’ (Kennett, Register, p. 508). His treatment of the nonconformists in his diocese was conciliatory. He connived at the preaching of those whom he had reason to respect, and offered a valuable living to one of them if he would conform (ib. pp. 815, 817, 918). He was the “constant patron” of the great theologian, Dr. George Bull [q. v.], who, at his earnest request, was presented by Lord Clarendon to a living in his diocese. In 1663 he caused a new font to be erected in Gloucester Cathedral, and solemnly dedicated it. For this he was attacked in a scurrilous pamphlet, entitled “More News from Rome” (Wood, Athenae Oxon. iii. 950 n.) Nicholson’s name is quoted as an authority in the controversy as to the authorship of “Eikon Basilike.” After her husband’s death in 1662 the widow of Bishop Gauden settled in Gloucester, and, on the occasion of her receiving the holy communion, the bishop, “wishing to be fully satisfied on that point, did put the question to her, and she solemnly affirmed that it was wrote by her husband” (Wordsworth, Who wrote Ikon Basilike? pp. 31, 32). He died on Feb. 5, 1672, aged 72, and was buried in a side chantry of the lady-chapel at Gloucester, in which his wife Elizabeth, who predeceased him on 20 April 1663, had also been interred. A monument was erected by his grandson, Owen Brigstocke, of Lechdenny, Carmarthenshire, with an epitaph by his friend Dr. Bull, describing him as “legenda scribens, faciens scribenda” (see Heber, Life of Taylor, p. cccxiv). He is described as one who ‘had the reputation of a right learned divine, conversant in the fathers and schoolmen, and excellent in the critical part of grammar; proved by his works to be a person of great erudition, endowed with prudence and modesty, and of a moderate mind’ (Wood, Athenae Oxon. iii. 950, iv. 848; Salmon, Lives of English Bishops, p. 267). “He had all the merit necessary to fill so great a station in the church to the best advantage, having at heart the good of his church and the honour of his clergy; a great encourager of learning and of learned men” (Nelson, Life of Bull, pp. 44, 176).

He published: 1. A plain Exposition of the Church Catechism, 1655 (re-issued in the library of Anglo-catholic theology). 2. Apology for the Discipline of the Ancient Church, 1659. 3. Plain Exposition of the Apostles’ Creed (dedicated to Bishop Sheldon), 1661. 4. Easy Analysis of the whole Book of Psalms, 1662.

[Bloxam’s Registers of Magdalen, i. 29; Foster’s Alumni Oxon. 1500-1714, iii. 1072; Godwin de Praesul. ii. 134; Britton’s Gloucester Cathedral, p. 38; Memoir prefixed to the Exposition of the Catechism, Lib. Anglo-catholic Theology.]



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