Thomas Bilson: Difference between revisions

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According to the original 'Dictionary of the National Biography' (founded in 1882 by George Smith and edited by both Sir Leslie Stephen who was Virginia Woolf’s father, and Sir Sidney Lee) Thomas Bilson was the eldest son of Herman Bilson, grandson of Arnold Bilson, whose wife is said to have been a daughter of the Duke of Bavaria. Later editions highlight that [[William Twisse]] was a nephew.<ref></ref><ref name="1858KJV">[ Alexander McClure. ''The Translators Revived'' 1858.]</ref><ref></ref> Bilson was educated at the twin foundations of William de Wykeham, [[Winchester College]] and [[New College, Oxford]].<ref>''Concise Dictionary of National Biography''</ref> He began to distinguish himself as a poet until, on receiving ordination, he gave himself wholly to theological studies. He was soon made Prebendary of Winchester, and headmaster of the College there until 1579 and Warden from 1581 to 1596.<ref></ref> His pupils there included [[John Owen (epigrammatist)|John Owen]], and [[Thomas James]], whom he influenced in the direction of [[patristics]].<ref>Mordechai Feingold, ''History of Universities, Volume XXII/1'' (2007), p. 23.</ref> In 1596, he was made [[Bishop of Worcester]], where he found [[Warwick]] uncomfortably full of [[Recusancy|recusant]] Roman Catholics.<ref>[[Patrick Collinson]], ''The Elizabethan Puritan Movement'' (1982), p. 441.</ref><ref>Anthony Boden, Denis Stevens, ''Thomas Tomkins: The Last Elizabethan'' (2005), p. 73.</ref> For appointment in 1597 to the wealthy [[Diocese of Winchester|see of Winchester]], he paid a £400 annuity to [[Elizabeth I of England|Elizabeth I]].<ref>[[Hugh Trevor-Roper]], ''William Laud'' (2000 edition) p. 11.</ref>
As the Bishop of Winchester, Thomas Bilson would have resided at Winchester Palace, where today in Clink Street, Southwark, London SE1 — there is only one remaining wall of the palace — with a magnificent rose window measuring thirteen feet across. However, back in the sixteenth century, Winchester Palace was a splendorous site and would have looked very similar to the waterfront house of ‘Sir Robert De Lesseps’ depicted in the film ''‘Shakespeare in Love’''. The 700 acre Bishoprick ‘see’ and jurisdiction of the Bishop of Winchester included an area known as — ‘The Liberty of Clink’ Southwark, Bankside — which in addition to having a prison (‘The Clink’) also provided the site of many of the major theatres of the day, namely:
— ‘The Rose’ built in 1587 in Rose Lane where Philip Henslowe was the lessee;
— ‘The Globe’ re-built in 1598 by James Burbage and William Shakespeare; (a year after Thomas Bilson became the Bishop of Winchester) and — ‘The Hope’ built in 1613 by Philip Henslowe in Bear Garden.
Southwark on the south bank of the river Thames in London was very much a cash generator in those days. (Back in the sixteenth century, Southwark was in many ways like a prototype Las Vegas.) In addition to the theatres, Southwark, Bankside was also a ‘red light’ district renown for its brothels and contained an unconsecrated graveyard for the corpses of women who had worked in them. Far from condemning the brothels, the respective bishops of Winchester, Thomas Bilson included, drew up a set of rules for their regulation and opening hours. In addition to prostitution and pick pockets, the area was also renown for its gambling dens, skittle alleys and bear/bull baiting, most of which were run by Philip Henslowe (1550-1616) who married a wealthy widow by the name of Agnes Woodward in 1579 and it is thought that with her money Henslowe had managed to acquire interests in numerous brothels, inns, lodging houses and was also involved in dyeing, starch making and wood selling as well as pawnbroking, money lending and theatrical enterprises. With regard to his relationship with actors and playwrites Henslowe wrote in his diary:—“Should these fellowes come out of my debt I should have no rule over them.” Although Philip Henslowe was undoubtedly the main operational manager and entrepreneur behind many of Southwark’s and the ‘see of Winchester’s’ cash generating entertainment enterprises — all taxes from these activities had to be paid to Thomas Bilson the Bishop of Winchester. Indeed in the London Public Record Office is an entry relating to William Shakespeare’s unpaid tax, and carrying the annotation ‘Ep(iscop)o Winton(ensi)’ (to the Bishop of Winchester) — (*The Public Record Office, Exchequer, Lord Treasurers Remembrancer, Pipe Rolls, E.372/444, m. Dated 6 October 1600.) — which has led historians such as Ian Wilson in his 1993 book ‘Shakespeare the Evidence’ to surmise that perhaps William Shakespeare was living within the bishopric ‘see’ of Thomas Bilson the Bishop of Winchester at this time. However somewhat curiously, William Shakespeare’s name does not appear in the church wardens’ annual lists of those residents registered as having attended compulsory Easter Communion. The church wardens annual lists of residents and the compulsory attendance of Easter Communion — in effect the commencement of the new year within the Julian Calendar — provided the paranoid bureaucratic authorities — fearful of Jesuit and Catholic uprisings with a detailed census as to the political status of its citizens and as a means to assess their military and tax obligations. William Shakespeare’s omission from this list and the reference to Thomas Bilson the Bishop of Winchester implies ‘a relationship’ between these two men which has hitherto been unexplained. — Indeed, the commonality of both men being to a large extent historical enigmas is curious in itself.
Thomas engaged in most of the polemical contests of his day, as a stiff partisan of the [[Church of England]]. In 1585, he published his ''The True Difference Betweene Christian Subjection and Unchristian Rebellion''. This work took aim at the [[Jesuits]] and replied to Cardinal [[William Allen (cardinal)|William Allen]]'s ''Defence of the English Catholics'' (Ingoldstadt, 1584).<ref name = SH>,%20Thomas</ref> It was also a theoretical work on the "Christian commonwealth" and it enjoyed publishing success. Some historians have stated that the immediate purpose of ''True Difference'' was as much to justify Dutch Protestants resisting [[Philip II of Spain]], as to counter the Jesuits' attacks on Elizabeth I.<ref>Hugh Dunthorne, ''The Netherland's as Britain school of Revolution'', p. 141, in ''Royal and Republican Sovereignty in Early Modern Europe: Essays in Memory of Ragnhild Hatton'' (1997).</ref> [[Glenn Burgess]] considers that in ''True Difference'' Bilson shows a sense of the diversity of "legitimate" political systems.<ref>Glenn Burgess, ''The Politics of the Ancient Constitution: An Introduction to English Political Thought, 1603–1642'' (1993), pp. 104-5.</ref> He conceded nothing to popular sovereignty, but said that there were occasions when a king might forfeit his powers.<ref>Michael Brydon, ''The Evolving Reputation of Richard Hooker: An Examination of Responses, 1600-1714'' (2006), pp. 132-3.</ref> According to James Shapiro,<ref>James Shapiro, ''1599: A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare'' (2005), p. 177.</ref> he "does his best to walk a fine line", in discussing 'political icons', i.e. pictures of the monarch.