Thomas Fuller (1608 – 16 August 1661) was an English churchman and historian. He is now remembered for his writings, particularly his Worthies of England, published after his death. He was a prolific author, and one of the first English writers able to live by his pen (and his many patrons).
The eldest son of Thomas Fuller, rector of Aldwinkle St Peter's, Northamptonshire, he was born at his father's rectory and was baptised on 19 June 1608. Dr John Davenant, bishop of Salisbury, was his uncle and godfather. According to John Aubrey, Fuller was "a boy of pregnant wit." At thirteen he was admitted to Queens' College, Cambridge, then presided over by John Davenant. His cousin, Edward Davenant, was a tutor there. He did well academically; and in Lent 1624-1625 he became B.A. and in July 1628, M.A. After being overlooked in an election of fellows of his college, he moved to Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge in November 1628. In 1630 he received from Corpus Christi College the curacy of St Bene't's, Cambridge.
Fuller's oratory soon attracted attention. In June 1631 his uncle gave him a prebend in Salisbury, where his father, who died in the following year, already held a canonry. The rectory of Broadwindsor, Dorset, then in the diocese of Bristol, was his next preferment (1634); and on 11 June 1635 he proceeded B.D. In 1640, he was elected proctor for Bristol in the memorable convocation of Canterbury, which assembled with the Short Parliament. On the sudden dissolution of the latter he joined those who urged that convocation should likewise dissolve. That opinion was overruled; and the assembly continued to sit by royal writ. Fuller left, in his Church History, a valuable account of the proceedings of this synod, for sitting in which he was fined £200.
Civil War period
At Broadwindsor, early in 1641, Thomas Fuller, his curate Henry Sanders, the churchwardens, and five others certified that their parish, represented by 242 adult males, had taken the Protestation ordered by the speaker of the Long Parliament. Fuller was not formally dispossessed of his living and prebend on the triumph of the Presbyterian party, but he relinquished both preferments about this time. For a short time he preached with success at the Inns of Court, and then at the invitation of the master of the Savoy, Walter Balcanqual, and the brotherhood of that foundation, became lecturer at their chapel of St Mary Savoy. Some of the best discourses of the witty preacher were delivered at the Savoy to audiences which extended into the chapel-yard. In one he set forth with searching and truthful minuteness the hindrances to peace, and urged the signing of petitions to the king at Oxford, and to the parliament, to continue their care in advancing an accommodation.
In his Appeal of Injured Innocence Fuller says that he was once deputed to carry a petition to the king at Oxford. This has been identified with a petition entrusted to Sir Edward Wardour, clerk of the pells, Dr Dukeson, "Dr Fuller," and four or five others from the city of Westminster and the parishes contiguous to the Savoy. A pass was granted by the House of Lords, on 2 January 1643, for an equipage of two coaches, four or six horses and eight or ten attendants. On the arrival of the deputation at the Treaty of Uxbridge, on 4 January, officers of the Parliamentary army stopped the coaches and searched the gentlemen; and they found upon the latter "two scandalous books arraigning the proceedings of the House," and letters with ciphers to Lord Viscount Falkland and the Lord Spencer. A joint order of both Houses remanded the party; and Fuller and his friends were briefly imprisoned. The Westminster Petition reached the king's hands; and it was published with the royal reply.
When it was expected, three months later, that a favourable result would attend the negotiations at Oxford, Fuller preached a sermon at Westminster Abbey, on 27 March 1643, on the anniversary of Charles I's accession, on the text, "Yea, let him take all, so my Lord the King return in peace." On Wednesday 26 July, he preached on church reformation, satirizing the religious reformers, and maintaining that only the Supreme Power could initiate reforms.
He was now obliged to leave London, and in August 1643 he joined the king at Oxford, where he lodged in a chamber at Lincoln College. Thence he put forth a witty and effective reply to John Saltmarsh, who had attacked his views on ecclesiastical reform. Fuller subsequently published by royal request a sermon preached on 10 May 1644, at St Mary's, Oxford, before the king and Prince Charles, called Jacob's Vow. The spirit of Fuller's preaching, characterized by calmness and moderation, offended the high royalists. To silence unjust censures he became chaplain to the regiment of Sir Ralph Hopton.
For the first five years of the war, he "had little list or leisure to write, fearing to be made a history, and shifting daily for my safety. All that time I could not live to study, who did only study to live." After the defeat of Hopton at Cheriton Down, Fuller retreated to Basing House. He took an active part in its defence, and his life with the troops caused him to be afterwards regarded as one of "the great cavalier parsons." He compiled in 1645 a small volume of prayers and meditations—the Good Thoughts in Bad Times—which, set up and printed in the besieged city of Exeter, where he had retired, was called by himself "the first fruits of Exeter press." It was inscribed to Lady Dalkeith, governess to the infant princess, Henrietta Anne (b. 1644), to whose household he was attached as chaplain. The corporation gave him the Bodleian lectureship on 21 March 1646, and he held it until 17 June following, soon after the surrender of the city to the parliament.
The Fear of losing life Old Light (1646) was his farewell discourse to his Exeter friends. Under the Articles of Surrender Fuller made his composition with the government at London, his "delinquency" being that he had been present in the king's garrisons. In Andronicus, or the Unfortunate Politician (1646), partly authentic and partly fictitious, he satirized the leaders of the Revolution; and for the comfort of sufferers by the war he issued (1647) a second devotional manual, entitled Good Thoughts in Worse Times, abounding in fervent aspirations, and drawing moral lessons in beautiful language out of the events of his life or the circumstances of the time. In grief over his losses, which included his library and manuscripts (his "upper and nether millstone"), and over the calamities of the country, he wrote his work on the Cause and Cure of a Wounded Conscience (1647). It was prepared at Boughton House in his native county, where he and his son were entertained by Edward Lord Montagu, who had been one of his contemporaries at the university and had taken the side of the parliament. For the next few years of his life Fuller was mainly dependent upon his dealings with booksellers, of whom he asserted that none had ever lost by him. He made considerable progress in an English translation from the manuscript of the Annales of his friend Archbishop Ussher.
Under the Commonwealth
Amongst his benefactors was Sir John Danvers of Chelsea, the regicide. Fuller in 1647 began to preach at St Clement's, Eastcheap, and elsewhere in the capacity of lecturer. While at St Clement's he was suspended; but soon recovered his freedom and preached wherever he was invited. At Chelsea, where also he occasionally officiated, he covertly preached a sermon on the death of Charles, but he did not break with his Roundhead patrons. James Hay, 2nd Earl of Carlisle made him his chaplain, and presented him in 1648 or 1649 to the curacy of Waltham Abbey. His possession of the living was in jeopardy on the appointment of Oliver Cromwell's "Tryers"; but he evaded their inquisitorial questions by his ready wit. He was not disturbed at Waltham in 1655, when the Protector's edict prohibited the adherents of the late king from preaching.
There is good reason to suppose that Fuller was at the Hague immediately before the Restoration, in the retinue of Lord Berkeley, one of the commissioners of the House of Lords, whose last service to his friend was to interest himself in obtaining him a bishopric. A Panegyrick to His Majesty on his Happy Return, one of the many contemporary poems celebrating the restoration of Charles II, was the last of Fuller's verse efforts.
After the Restoration
On 2 August, by royal letters, he was admitted Doctor of Divinity at Cambridge. He resumed his lectures at the Savoy, where Samuel Pepys heard him preach; but he preferred his conversation or his books to his sermons.
Fuller's last promotion was that of Chaplain Extraordinary to Charles II. In the summer of 1661 he visited the West in connexion with the business of his prebend, which had been restored to him. On Sunday 12 August, while preaching at the Savoy, he was seized with typhus fever, and died at his new lodgings in Covent Garden on 16 August. He was buried in Cranford church, where a mural tablet was afterwards set up on the north side of the chancel, with an epitaph which contains a conceit worthy of his own pen, to the effect that while he was endeavouring (viz, in. The Worthies) to give immortality to others, he himself attained it.
In 1631, he published a poem on the subject of David and Bathsheba, entitled David's Heinous Sinne, Heartie Repentance, Heavie Punishment. At Broadwindsor he compiled The Historie of the Holy Warre (1639), a history of the crusades, and The Holy State and the Prophane State (1642). This work describes the holy state as existing in the family and in public life, gives rules of conduct, model "characters" for the various professions and profane biographies. It was perhaps the most popular of all his writings. His first published volume of sermons appeared in 1640 under the title of Joseph's party-coloured Coat.
Lionel Cranfield, 3rd Earl of Middlesex, who lived at Copt Hall, near Waltham, gave him what remained of the books of the lord treasurer his father; and through the good offices of the marchioness of Hertford, part of his own pillaged library was restored to him. Fuller was thus able to prosecute his literary labours, producing successively his descriptive geography of the Holy Land, called A Pisgah-Sight of Palestine (1650), and his Church-History of Britain (1655), from the birth of Jesus Christ until the year 1648.
With the Church-History was printed The History of the University of Cambridge since the Conquest and The History of Waltham Abbey. These works were furthered by his connection with Sion College, London, where he had a room. The Church History was angrily attacked from the high-church side by Peter Heylin. At the Oxford Act of 1657, Robert South, who was Terrae filius, lampooned Fuller, whom he described in this Oratio as living in London, ever scribbling and each year bringing forth new folia like a tree. At length, continues South, the Church-History came forth with its 166 dedications to wealthy and noble friends; and with this huge volume under one arm, and his wife (said to be little of stature) on the other, he ran up and down the streets of London, seeking at the houses of his patrons invitations to dinner, to be repaid by his dull jests at table. His last and best patron was George Berkeley, 1st Earl Berkeley (1628–1698), of Cranford House, Middlesex, whose chaplain he was, and who gave him Cranford rectory (1658). To this noble-man Fuller's reply to Heylyn's Examen Historicum, called The Appeal of Injured Innocence (1659), was inscribed. In An Alarum to the Counties of England and Wales (1660) Fuller argued for a free and full parliament—free from force, as he expressed it, as well as from abjurations or previous engagements. Mixt Contemplations in Better Times (1660), dedicated to Lady Monk, tendered advice in the spirit of its motto, "Let your moderation be known to all men: the Lord is at hand."
His sense of humour kept him from extremes. "By his particular temper and management," said Laurence Echard in his History of England, "he weathered the late great storm with more success than many other great men." He was known as "a perfect walking library." Antithetic and axiomatic sentences abound in his pages.. "Wit," wrote Coleridge after reading the Church History, "was the stuff and substance of Fuller's intellect". Charles Lamb made some selections from Fuller, and admired his "golden works."
In about 1640 he had married Eleanor, daughter of Hugh Grove of Chisenbury, Wiltshire. She died in 1641. Their son, John, baptized at Broadwindsor by his father on 6 June 1641, was afterwards of Sidney Sussex College, edited the Worthies of England, 1662, and became rector of Great Wakering, Essex, where he died in 1687. About 1652 Fuller married his second wife, Mary Roper, youngest sister of Thomas Roper, 1st Viscount Baltinglass, by whom he had several children.
- Bailey, J. E. (1874) The Life of Thomas Fuller, with Notices of his Books, his Kinsmen and his Friends. 800 p. London: B. M. Pickering (with a detailed bibliography (pp. 713–762) of his works)
- Fuller, Thomas (1840) The History of the University of Cambridge: from the Conquest to the year 1634. Cambridge University Press (reissued by Cambridge University Press, 2009; ISBN 978-1-108-00465-7)
- Fuller, Thomas (1811) The Worthies of England, reprinted by John Nichols (1811) and by P. A. Nuttall (1840) Vol.1 Vol.2 Vol.3 at books.google.
- Fuller, Thomas (1891) Collected Sermons; edited by J. E. Bailey; completed by W. E. A. Axon. 2 vols. London: Unwin Bros
- This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Fuller, Thomas". Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press.
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- Thomas Fuller, The History of the Holy War (1840 edition, at the Internet Archive)
- Thomas Fuller, Joseph's Party-Coloured Coat (1867 edition)
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