EARLE, John (c. 1601-65)

EARLE (EARLES), John (c. 1601–65)

cons. 30 Nov. 1662 bp. of WORCESTER; transl. 20 Sept. 1663 bp. of SALISBURY

First sat 18 Feb. 1663; last sat 31 Oct. 1665

b. c.1601, York, s. of Thomas Earle, registrar archbishop’s court, York. educ. Christ Church, Oxf. BA 1619; Merton, Oxf. fell. 1619, MA 1624, proctor 1631; incorp. Camb. 1632, DD 1642. m. ?1637, Bridget ?Dixye. d. 17 Nov. 1665; will 15 Nov., pr. 18 Dec. 1665.1

Tutor and chap. to Prince of Wales (Charles II) 1641–7; clerk of closet to Charles II 1650–64.

Chap. to Philip Herbert, 4th earl of Pembroke, 1631; rect. Gamlingay, Cambs. 1632, Bishopstone, Wilts. 1639, deprived 1644; chan. Salisbury 1644–62; dean Westminster 1660–2.

Commr. Savoy conference 1661.2

Likenesses: oil on canvas by unknown artist, NPG 1531.

John Earle, the satirist and author of the popular (though anonymous) Microcosmographie (1628), was introduced to the court of Charles I by Philip Herbert, 4th earl of Pembroke. A prominent figure in literary circles, he was a habitué of the Great Tew circle along with Gilbert Sheldon, later archbishop of Canterbury, George Morley, later bishop of Winchester, and Edward Hyde, later earl of Clarendon (who would regard him as one of his closest friends).3 He succeeded Brian Duppa, bishop of Salisbury, as tutor to the future Charles II in 1641; in exile from the late 1640s, he produced Latin translations of the Eikon Basilike and Hooker’s Ecclesiastical Polity, and was part of a close-knit circle of clergy and laymen including Morley and Hyde. Appointed chaplain to Charles II, he was included in planning lists for the restored Church.4 Returning to England at the Restoration, he was made dean of Westminster (for which he had been designated at least as early as July 1659) in which capacity he oversaw the exhumation of the regicides.5 As dean, with the interest of the abbey at his disposal, he helped to secure the election at Westminster in 1661 of his friend Sir Philip Warwick.6 With Sheldon and Morley he was entrusted with the task of sifting the flood of petitions for clerical preferment within the king’s gift that arrived in the course of 1660.7

In March 1661 he was named as one of the commissioners to the Savoy conference, although Richard Baxter (who retained considerable respect for him) noted that he ‘never came’.8 In the spring of 1662 he declined the bishopric of Worcester, leaving the way open for John Gauden, though when Gauden died suddenly after only four months in the see, Earle succumbed to Sheldon’s insistence that he take the post, protesting unsuccessfully that his age and infirmity made him ‘ill fitted’ for it.9 He was consecrated on 30 Nov. 1662, the lavish consecration banquet, costing some £600, attended by ‘innumerable’ members of the nobility, gentry and Church.10

On 18 Feb. 1663, the first day of the 1663 session, Earle took his seat in the House of Lords, subsequently attending for over 80 per cent of sittings and being named to four select committees. He held the see of Worcester for less than a year, being translated to Salisbury in the reshuffle of episcopal posts that followed the death of William Juxon, archbishop of Canterbury, in 1663. Clarendon ensured that the formalities were completed quickly in September.11 When he arrived in the House for the 1664 session it was as bishop of Salisbury. He was again present for over 80 per cent of sittings, attending throughout the passage of the first Conventicle Act. His attendance dropped to 26 per cent in the 1664–5 session, largely owing to his intermittent attendance between 20 Dec. 1664 and the beginning of March 1665. He was probably ill. In September 1664 he mentioned suffering from bladder stones and expressed his fear of a recurrence; he had also lost his appetite.12

When Parliament met in Oxford in October 1665, Earle accompanied the king and lodged in University College. He was present on all but two days of the short session. On 12 Oct. he was named to the sessional committees and on 27 Oct., along with almost all others present, to the committee on the contentious Five Mile Act. According to Gilbert Burnet, the future bishop of Salisbury, Earle ‘declared himself much against this act’, yet he is not identified as such in the only known account of the debate in the Lords, which states that ‘all’ of the bishops and James Stuart, duke of York, carried the bill ‘so strongly’ that its opponents could not have it recommitted.13 Though Earle’s background and friendships suggest a relatively strong line on nonconformity, Earle’s proxy partners might suggest some flexibility: in February 1663 and September 1665 he was entrusted with the proxy of Edward Reynolds, bishop of Norwich, the one Presbyterian minister who had accepted elevation to the episcopate; in November 1664 he also accepted the proxy of Gilbert Ironside, bishop of Bristol, whose sympathies may have been Laudian, but whose attitudes towards dissent seem to have been rather equivocal. These are more likely to be instances of the civility and ‘peaceableness’ which Baxter admired, however, than indications of ecclesiastical or theological views.

Earle never returned from Oxford. He fell into his final illness within days of the prorogation and died on 17 Nov. 1665. Adored by the diarist John Evelyn, he was regarded by his contemporaries as ‘a contemner of the world’; he placed little value on material belongings, hence his dishevelled appearance, the ‘careless indifference’ of his life and the muddle of his personal papers.14 He made a nuncupative will two days before his death, leaving his entire estate to his wife, Bridget. Earle was buried with considerable pomp on 25 Nov. in Merton College Chapel, near to the high altar.


  • 1 TNA, PROB 11/318.
  • 2 Bodl. Tanner 282, f. 35.
  • 3 Ath. Ox. iii. 94, 568, 716; Clarendon, Life, i. 42, 48, 58.
  • 4 Eg. 2542, ff. 268–9; 2547, ff. 1–5.
  • 5 CCSP, iv. 273, v. 137-8.
  • 6 HP Commons, 1660–90, iii. 674–5.
  • 7 Green, Re-establishment of the Church of England, 53-55.
  • 8 Earle’s misunderstanding with Baxter over clerical dress when preaching before the king was clarified in an exchange of letters in June 1662 which Baxter copied into his memoir. Reliquiae Baxterianae, pt. 2, pp. 364, 382-3.
  • 9 Tanner 48, f. 46.
  • 10 Evelyn Diary, iii. 345.
  • 11 CCSP, v. 334, 336.
  • 12 Bodl. Clarendon 82, f. 94.
  • 13 Burnet, i. 390; Bodl. Rawl. A. 130, f. 56.
  • 14 Evelyn Diary, iii. 345; Ath. Ox. iii. 717–18; Lansd. 986, f. 38.