Ridley, Nicholas, an eminent English prelate, and martyr to the cause of the reformed religion, descended from an ancient family in Northumberland, was born early in the sixteenth century, in Tynedale, at a place called Wilmontswick in the above county.
As he exhibited early proofs of good natural abilities, he was placed in a grammar-school at Newcastle-upon-Tyne, in which he made such progress, that he was taken from thence and entered of Pembroke-hall, Cambridge, about 1518, when Luther was preaching against indulgences in Germany. His disposition was open and ingenuous, and his application to his studies unremitting both at school and university. He was taught Greek by Robert Crook, who had begun a course of that language at Cambridge. His religious sentiments were those of the Romish church in which he had been brought up, and in which he would probably be encouraged by his uncle, Dr. Robert Ridley, then fellow of Queen’s college. In 1522 he took the degree of B. A.; and to his knowledge of the learned languages, now added that of the philosophy and theology then in vogue.
In 1524 his abilities were so generally acknowledged, that the master and fellows of University college, Oxford, invited him to accept of an exhibition there; but this he declined, and the same year was chosen fellow of his own college in Cambridge. Next year he took the degree of M. A. and in 1526 was appointed by the college their general agent in all causes belonging to the churches of Tilney, Soham, and Saxthorpe, belonging to Pembroke-hall. But as his studies were now directed to divinity, his uncle, at his own charge, sent him for farther improvement to the Sorbonne at Paris; and from thence to Louvain; continuing on the continent till 1529.
In 1530, he was chosen junior treasurer of his college, and about this time appears to have been more than ordinarily intent on the study of the scriptures. For this purpose he used to walk in the orchard at Pembroke-hall, and there commit to memory almost all the epistles in Greek; which walk is still called Ridley’s-walk. He also distinguished hmself by his skill in disputation, but frequently upon frivolous questions, as was the custom of the time.
In 1533 he was chosen senior proctor of the university, and while in that office, the important point of the pope’s supremacy came to be examined upon the authority of scripture. The decision of the university was, that the bishop of Rome had no more authority and jurisdiction derived to him from God, in this kingdom of England, than any other foreign bishop; which was signed by the vice-chancellor, and by Nicholas Ridley, and Richard Wilkes, proctors.
In 1534, on the expiration of his proctorship, he took the degree of B. D. and was chosen chaplain of the university, and public reader, which archbishop Tenison calls prædicator publicus, and in the Pembroke MS. he is also called Magister Glomeriæ, which office is supposed to be that of university orator.
In the year 1537 his great reputation as an excellent preacher, and his intimate acquaintance with the scriptures and fathers, occasioned Cranmer, archbishop of Canterbury, to invite him to his house, where he appointed him one of his chaplains, and admitted him into his confidence. As a farther mark of his esteem, he collated him, in April 1538, to the vicarage of Herne in Kent. Here he was diligent to instruct his charge in the pure doctrines of the gospel, as far as they were discovered to him, except in the point of transubstantiation, on which he had as yet received no light; and to enliven the devotion of his parishioners, he used to have the Te Deum sung in his parish church in English, which was afterwards argued in accusation against him.
In 1539, when the act of the six articles was passed, Mr. RIdley, who had now the character of a zealous scripturist, bore his testimony against it in the pulpit, although he was in no danger from its penalties, as he was still a believer in transubstantiation, was not married, and with respect to auricular confession, rather leaned to the practice, but made a difference between what he thought an useful appointment in the church, and pressing it on the conscience as a point necessary to salvation.
At Herne he continued to attract a great multitude of people to his sermons, and in 1540 went to Cambridge, and took his degree of doctor of divinity, probably at the persuasion of Cranmer, who wished to place him in a more conspicuous situation. This he attempted partly by recoommending him to the king as one of his majesty’s chaplains, and partly by giving him a prebend in the church of Canterbury. About the same time the fellows of Pembroke-hall elected him master of that house.
At Canterbury he preached with so much zeal against the abuses of popery, as to provoke the other prebendaries, and preachers of what was called the old learning, to exhibit articles against him at the archbishop’s visitation in 1541, for preaching contrary to the statute of the six articles. The attempt, however, completely failed. Gardiner, bishop of Winchester, next endeavoured to entrap him; and articles were exhibited against him before the justices of the peace in Kent, and afterwards before the king and council, which charged him with preaching against auricular confession, and with directing the Te Deum to be sung in English; but the accusation being referred to Cranmer, by the king, that prelate immediately crushed it, much to the mortification of Dr. Ridley’s enemies.
The greatest part of 1545 Dr. Ridley spent in retirement at Herne. He had, as we have noticed, been hitherto a believer in transubstantiation, influenced by the decrees of popes and councils, the rhetorical expression of the fathers, and the letter of scripture; but it is supposed that a perusal of the controversy between Luther andthe Zuinglians, with the writings of Ratramnus or Bertram, which had fallen into his hands, induced him to examine more closely into the scriptures, and opinions of the fathers; the result of which was, that this doctrine had no foundation. Cranmer also, to whom he communicated his discoveries, joined with him in the same opinion, as did Latimer. In the close of 1545, Cranmer gave him the eighth stall in St. Peter’s, Westminster.
When Edward ascended the throne in 1547, Dr. Ridley was considered as a celebrated preacher, and in his sermons before the king, as well as on other occasions, exposed, with boldness and argument, the errors of popery. About this time, the fellows of Pembroke-hall presented him to the living of Soham, in the diocese of Norwich; but the presentation being disputed by the bishop, Ridley was admitted to the living by command of the king. On Sept. 4 following, he was propmoted to the bishopric of Rochester, vacant by the translation of Dr. Holbeach to the bishopric of London. He was consecrated Sept. 25, in the chapel belonging to Dr. May, dean of St. Paul’s, in the usual form, by chrism, or holy unction, and imposition of hands; and after an oath renouncing the usurped justice of the Roman pontiff, was vested, according to the ancient rites, with the robes and insignia appropriated to his dignity. Yet Dr. Brookes, in the subsequent reign, would not allow Ridley to have been a bishop, and only degraded him from his priest’s orders, which is not easy to be accounted for; because if the pretence was that his abjuration of the pop invalidated his consecration, the same objection might be made to Bonner, Tonstall, Gardiner, &c.
In 1548, bishop Ridley appears to have been employed in compiling the common prayer, in conjunction with archbishop Cranmer, and others; and in 1549, he was put into commission, together with Cranmer and several others, to search after all anabaptists, heretics, and contemners of the common prayer. This produced the execution of Joan Bocher and another, of which we have already spoken in our account of Cranmer. In May of this year, he was one of a commission to visit Cambridge, an abolish the statutes and ordinances which maintained popery and superstition; but, finding that another more concealed object was the suppression of Clare-hall, and the incorporation of it with Trinity-hall, as a new college of civilians, he opposed it, and by his firmness prevented this act of injustice. Another part of the business of the commissioners was more agreeable to him: this was to preside at a public disputation relating to the sacrament of the Lord’s supper, similar to one that had been held at Oxford a short time before. The decision on this occasion was against atransubstantiation; and although Langdale, one of the disputants on the side of that doctrine, composed a pretended refutation of bishop Ridley’s determination, he did not venture to print it until 1558, when he was secure that Ridley could make no reply.
In October 1549, Bonner, bishop of London, was deprived, and Ridley, who was one of the commissioners before whom his cause was determioned, was thought the most proper person to fill that important see, on account of his great learning and zeal for the reformation; and he was accordingly installed in April 1550. His conduct towards his predecessor Bonner, and his family, after taking possession of the episcopal palace, was honourable to his integrity and benevolance, of which the following facts are sufficient proofs. He took care to preserve from injury the goods, &c. belonging to Bonner, allowing him full liberty to remove them when he pleased. Such materials as Bonner had purchased for the repair of his house and church, the new bishop employed to the uses for which they were designed; but he repaid him the money which he had advanced for them. He took upon himself the discharge of the sums which were due to Bonner’s servants for liveries and wages; and that the mother and sister of that prelate, who lived near the palace at Fulham, and had their board there, might not be losers in consequence of his promotion, he always sent for them to dinner and supper, constantly placing Mrs. Bonner at the head of the table, even when persons of high rank were his guests, often saying, By your lordship’s favour, this place of right and custom is for my mother Bonner, as if he had succeeded to the relation, as well as office of her son.
Our prelate filled this high station with great dignity, and was a pattern of piety, temperance, and regularity, to all around him. He spent much of his time in prayer and contemplation; and took great pains in the instruction and improvement of his family. His mode of life was, as soon as he had risen and dressed himself, to continue in private prayer half an hour; then, if no other business interrupted him, he retired to his study, where he continued until ten o’clock, at which hour he went to prayers with his family. He also daily read a lecture to them, beginning at the Acts of the Apostles, and so going regularly through St. Paul’s epistles, giving to every one that could read, a New Testament, and encouraging them to learn by heart some chosen chapters. After prayers he went to dinner, where he was not very forward to begin discourse; but when he did, he entered into it with great wisdom and discretion, and sometimes with facetiousness. This conversation he would indulge for an hour after dinner, or otherwise amuse himself during that time with playing at chess. The hour for unbending being expired, he returned to his study, where he continued till five, except suitors, or business abroad, required otherwise. He then went to prayers with his family as in the morning, after which he supped; then diverting himself for another hour after supper, as he did after dinner, he went back to his study, and continued there till eleven at night, when he retired to private prayer, and then went to bed.
Soon after his promotion to the see of London, he was the person thought the fittest to reconcile Dr. Hooper, the bishop elect of Gloucester, to the vestments, against which the latter had conceived very strong prejudices. In June 1550, bishop Ridley visited his diocese, and directed that the altars should be taken down in the churches, and tables substituted in their room, for the celebration of the Lord’s supper; in order to take away the flase persuasion which the people had, of sacrifices to be offered upon altars. In 1551 the sweating sickness prevailed in London, and in the space of a few days carried off eight or nine hundred persons; but in the midst of the alarm which this necessarily occasioned, Ridley asministered in the duties of his office, trusting himself entirely to the good providence of God for safety, in the danger to which he was every moment exposed; and he endeavoured, with all the zeal of an exemplary spiritual pastor, to improve the public calamity to the reformation of the manners of the people. To promote more generally a reformation in the doctrine of the church, the council, this year, appointed Cranmer and Ridley to prepare a book of articles of faith. With this view they drew up forty-two articles and sent copies of them to the other bishops and learned divines, for their corrections and amendments; after which the archbishop reviewed them a second time, and then presented them to the council, where they received the royal sanction, and were published by the king’s authority.
In 1552, Ridley visited his old college at Cambridge, and upon his return called at Hunsdon, to pay his respects to the princess Mary. Their interview forms a curious narrative. She thanked him for his civility, and entering into conversation with him for about quarter of an hour, told him that she remembered him at court, and mentioned particularly a sermon of his before her father; and then, leaving her chamber of presence, dismissed him to dine with her officers. After dinner she sent for him again,, when the bishop said that he did not only come to pay his duty to her grace, but also to offer to preach before her next Sunday, if she would be pleased to permit him. On this she changed countenance, and after some minutes’ silence, said, As for this matter, I pray you, my lord, make the answer to it yourself; and, on the bishop’s urging his offer, as a matter of conscience and duty, she repreated the same words, yet at last told him, that the doors of the paris church should be open to him, where he might preach if he pleased, but that neither herself nor any of her servants should hear him. Madam, said the bishop, I trust you will not refise God’s word.—;I cannot tell what you call God’s word. That is not God’s word now, which was God’s word in my father’s days. The bishop ovserved, that God’s word is the same at all times, but has been better understood and practised in some ages than in others. Mary, enraged, at this, answered, You durst not for your ears have avouched that for God’s word in my father’s days, that you do now; and then, to shew how well she had prepared herself to argue with the prelate, she added, As for your new books, I thank God, I never read any of them; I never did and nevr will. She then, after making use of much harsh language, parted from him, with these words, My lord, for your civility in coming to see me, I thank you; but for your offering to preach before me, I thank you not a whit. After this the bishop was conducted to the room where they had dined, and where sir Thomas Wharton now gave him a glass of wine. When he had drank it, he seemed concerned, and said, Surely I have done amiss. Upon being asked why? he vehemently reproached himself for having drank in that place, where God’s word had been refused; whereas, said he, if I had remembered my duty, I ought to have departed immediately, and to have shaken off the dust from my feet for a testimony against this house. On this interview, his biographer remarks, One of our learned historians suggests, that as the princess was under no excommunication, the bishop discovered his resentment too far. Too far in worldly prudence he certainly did, for the princess never forgave him; but Christ’s directions to his apostles were not given to persons who had been cast out of their communion, but to persons of a different belief refusing to be instructed. And the princess having avowed an obstinate persevering refusal of evrry mean of instruction, reading and hearing, no wonder if the bishop blamed himself for so far forgetting his master’s command, as to accept a pledge of friendship in the house of one who had so wilfully rejected the word of God. This bigotry of her’s gave him a sorrowful prospect of what was to be expected, if ever the princess came to the throne.