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Whitgift, John


Anglican divine; b. Lincolnshire, 1532; d. London, 1604. While still young, Whitgift embraced the principles of the Reformation and was strengthened in these convictions as a student at Cambridge during the Edwardian regime. Unlike many Anglicans, he did not flee to the Continent during the reign of Mary Tudor but unobtrusively continued his studies. He was ordained after Elizabeth I came to the throne, and within a few years he was made Regius professor of divinity and master of Trinity College, Cambridge. Whitgift, faced with financial difficulties and the turbulence caused by Puritanism, rewrote the University statutes and was singularly successful in administering the finances and discipline of his college.

His success in this difficult situation and firm opposition to Thomas cartwright, the Puritan leader, brought him to the attention of the queen and her advisors. In 1577 he became bishop of Worcester and in 1583 succeeded the ineffective Grindal at Canterbury. His adherence to the Elizabethan settlement involved persecuting Catholics, but his chief concern was the threat of Puritanism within the Church of England. The Puritans, influenced by Geneva, encouraged by prominent laymen, and tolerated by many bishops, attempted to presbyterianize Anglican polity and worship. Although his doctrinal position was basically Calvinist, Whitgift rejected the jure divino claims made for the Genevan system and enforced conformity to the episcopate and Prayer Book. With the active support of the queen, he deprived those who would not conform and prevented the Puritans from abolishing the episcopate and liturgy in the Church of England.

Bibliography: p. m. dawley, John Whitgift and the English Reformation (New York 1954). v. j. k. brook, Whitgift and the English Church (New York 1957). p. hughes, The Reformation in England 3 v. in 1 (5th ed. New York 1963) 3.

[r. h. greenfield]

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