Richard Bancroft was the man trusted by James I to argue on behalf of the government religious matters that occurred during his reign. Bancroft was Archbishop of Canterbury from 1604 until his death in 1610. Bancroft believed that Puritanism had the potential to socially and politically destabilise the country – hence his repression of it.
Richard Bancroft was born at Farnworth in Lancashire in September 1544. He was educated at Christ’s, Cambridge and became chaplain to Sir Christopher Hatton and then to John Whitgift who was Elizabeth I’s Archbishop of Canterbury from 1583 to her death in 1603. Whitgift passed on to Bancroft his anti-Puritan views and many of Bancroft’s public speeches echoed Whitgift’s views. With regards to Catholics, Bancroft was more tolerant. He believed that it was important to separate those who, while Catholic, could be loyal to an English monarch from those who were pro-Spain and Jesuit-led. Bancroft forwarded a policy of toleration in return for loyalty. In this he was supported by Robert Cecil.
In 1591, Bancroft was appointed Bishop of London. In the last few years of Elizabeth’s reign, he was also effectively acting as de facto Archbishop of Canterbury in Whitgift’s old age and he officially became that office holder in 1604.
At the January 1604 Hampton Court Conference, he appeared to take a conciliatory path with regards to religious issues. However, after this conference had broken up, he took on a more hard-line anti-Puritan stance. In September 1604, James licensed the 1604 Canons which stated that all clergy had to subscribe to all the 39 Articles and to everything that was in the Prayer Book. The House of Commons protested about legislation that came from outside of Parliament and around 90 clergy lost their livelihood. However, it was an example of what approach Bancroft was going to take in future years.
Bancroft also attempted to undo the damage that had been done to the Church since the reign of Henry VIII in terms of land ownership. In 1610, Bancroft put before the House of Lords a programme that ensured that the Church received in full its tithes and other fees. He also wanted a fund raised via taxation that would be used to repurchase for the Church all the impropriated benefices – this would have greatly affected many in Parliament and was not well received.
Richard Bancroft died in November 1610.