Eminent men of Great Britain


Algernon Sidney,

a celebrated English republican, second son of Robert, Earl of Leicester, was born about 1620. He was carefully educated under the inspection of his father, and early trained to a military life; served with considerable distinction during the Irish rebellion, under his brother, Philip Sidney, Lord Lisle, afterwards Lord-Lieutenant of Ireland and one of Cromwell's Council (died, 1698); joined the parliamentarians on his return, in 1643 and, having displayed his skill and bravery in several actions, was ultimately made governor of Dover. When the High Court of Justice was formed for the trial of the king, he was nominated a member; and although he was neither present when sentence was pronounced, nor signed the warrant for the execution, yet he vindicated that measure. During the Commonwealth he retired to Penshurst, and there occupied himself in composing his celebrated 'Discourses on Government.' In 1659 he was one of the commissioners sent to mediate between Denmark and Sweden; and conscious of the offence which he had given the royalist party, he remained abroad till 1677, when he received a pardon, and returned. In 1683, on suspicion of being implicated in what was called the Rye-House Plot, he was arrested, with Lord William Russell and others and when arraigned before the chief justice, Jeffreys, he was found guilty, though the evidence was defective and illegal. He was executed on Tower Hill, December 7, and suffered with characteristic firmness and constancy. One of the first acts of the Revolution was to reverse his attainder; and the name of Algernon Sidney has since been held in honour by those who maintain the fundamental principles of free government.

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Charles Edward Stuart,

called the Young Pretender, the grandson of James II., was born at Rome, in 1721. In 1745 he landed in Scotland, and published a manifesto exhibiting the claims of his father, the Old Pretender, to the English throne. He was joined by some of the Highlanders, and entering Edinburgh, he caused his father to he proclaimed; on which General Cope hastened towards the capital, but was attacked by the Pretender at Preston Pans, and defeated. Instead of making a proper use of this victory, by advancing into England, Charles Edward returned to Edinburgh, wasting his time in an idle parade of royalty. Afterwards, on being joined by Lords Kilmarnock, Cromarty, Balmerino, and other discontented chiefs, he marched as far as Derby; but hearing that the king was about to take the field, he returned to Scotland, and defeated the English forces, under Hawley, at Falkirk. In the meantime, the Duke of Cumberland advanced to Edinburgh, and from thence to Aberdeen, the Pretender retreating before him. At last the two armies met at Culloden, April 16, 1746, when, after an obstinate conflict, in which the Highlanders displayed prodigious courage, the rebel army was signally defeated, and entirely dispersed. Charles Edward, after wandering about in different disguises, chiefly in the Hebrides, effected his escape to France. He died at Florence in 1788.

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James Francis Edward Stuart,

known as the Chevalier de St. George, or the Old Pretender, was the son of James II. by his second wife, Mary of Este, and was born 10th June, 1688. In the following December the queen fled with him to France, and on the death of James, his father, in 1701, he was acknowledged as King of England by Louis XIV., which led to the recall of the English ambassador and war with France. He was also acknowledged as king by the Pope, the King of Spain, and the Duke of Savoy, while he was attainted of high treason by an Act passed in 1702. In 1708 he sailed from Dunkirk with a French fleet for the invasion of Scotland, but the vigilance of the English admiral, Sir George Byng, prevented the execution of the plan, and the prince returned to France. On the death of Queen Anne he was refused an interview with Louis XIV., and ordered to leave France. In the following year, 1715, a rebellion in his favour, headed by the Earl of Mar, broke out in Scotland, and he was proclaimed on the 6th September. The rebels were defeated at Preston on the 13th November, and their leaders made prisoners. In December the Pretender himself arrived at Peterhead, assumed royal state, formed a council, and made a progress through the country; but the case was hopeless, and he was glad to escape to Gravelines. He soon after dismissed Lord Bolingbroke, who had been his secretary, and appointed the Duke of Ormond to that post.

Ordered to quit France, he went to Italy, and afterwards to Spain, where he was received as King of England, and an expedition was undertaken in his favour, which ended in failure. In 1719 the prince married Maria Clementina, daughter of the King of Poland, by whom he had two sons, Charles Edward, the Young Pretender, and Henry, afterwards Cardinal of York. Maria Clementina died in 1735. Disaffection and restlessness continued in Great Britain, showing themselves from time to time in overt acts, and in 1745 another Jacobite rebellion broke but in Scotland, Prince Charles Edward landing there, and getting his father proclaimed once more. This struggle ended with the defeat of the Jacobites at Culloden by the Duke of Cumberland. The Pretender died at Rome, where he had lived for many years, in December, 1765.

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Edward Vernon,

a brave English admiral, born at Westminster, in 1684, was a son of James Vernon, Secretary of State to William III. After a variety of services be was made vice-admiral of the Blue in 1739, and sent with a squadron to Spanish America, where he took Porto Bello, and destroyed the fortifications; but in 1741 be proved unsuccessful in an attack upon Carthagena. Promoted to the rank of Admiral in 1745, he was struck off the list in the following year, for making public some letters received from the Secretary of State and the Board of Admiralty. Died, at Nacton, in Suffolk, 1757.

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Wat Tyler,

or Wat the Tyler, leader of the insurrection which broke out in Kent in the reign of Richard II., was a working man of Dartford, in Kent. A poll-tax having been granted by the parliament in 1380 on every person above fifteen years of age, one of the collectors demanded it for Wat's daughter who was not of that age, and behaving scandalously to enforce the claim, Wat killed him on the spot. The smouldering discontent of the rural population at once burst into a flame ; and Wat, as if by mere accident, found himself captain of the host, June, 1381. After assembling them on Blackheath, he led them to London where they sacked Lambeth Palace, burnt the palace of the Duke of Lancaster and other great buildings, seized the Tower, and killed Simon Sudbury, archbishop of Canterbury, the royal treasurer, and many wealthy persons. On June 15 the young king met the insurgents in Smithfield, and during the conference Wat Tyler was killed by Sir William Walworth, then lord mayor of London. Richard then got his followers out of London by smooth promises of granting them their reasonable demands; and as soon as danger was past the royal promises were broken, and 1500 of those who had trusted in them were executed.

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John Wickliffe,

or Wycliffe, the 'Morning Star of the Reformation,' was born probably at Wycliffe, or at Hipswell, near Richmond, in Yorkshire, about 1324. He was educated at Oxford, where he attended the lectures of the learned and pious Bradwardine at Merton College. The terrible pestilence of 1348 appears to have profoundly impressed his mind and aroused him to earnest reflection. While he pursued diligently his studies in various departments, he especially devoted himself to philosophy and theology. Like Bradwardine, he drank deep at the Biblical fountains, and early began to call others to them. In 1361 he was elected warden of Balliol, and in the same year was appointed rector of Fylingham, in Lincolnshire. The statement usually made that four years later he became warden of Canterbury Hall, that he was soon removed, and unsuccessfully appealed to the Pope against the sentence of the archbishop, is rejected, after careful investigation, by Dr. Shirley.

In 1366 he was doctor in theology, and teacher of Divinity in the university. His reputation and influence were so great that in 1374 he was one of the commissioners sent by Edward III. to Bruges, to treat with Pope Gregory XI. respecting the repeal of the statutes of Provisors and Præmunire. A compromise was agreed to, and on Wickliffe's return, the same year, he was named prebendary of the Collegiate Church of Westbury, and presented to the rectory of Lutterworth, in Leicestershire. He laboured incessantly as a preacher and pastor, and his sharp sayings about the Pope and the Church could not but excite attention in high quarters. His opinions spread rapidly among the common people, and the Church grew alarmed. The zealous and haughty Courtenay was then Bishop of London, and in February, 1377, he cited the bold preacher to appear before a convocation at St. Paul's. Wickliffe appeared there on February 19, attended by Lord Percy, Marshal of England, and John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster. The cathedral was densely crowded; hard words passed between the bishop and the Duke, then the most powerful noble in England; blows followed, and the meeting broke up in confusion.

In May following three bulls of Gregory XI. were addressed to the king, the primate, and the university of Oxford, requiring them to proceed against Wickliffe; who early in 1378 answered the summons of the primate, and went unattended to the chapel at Lambeth. 'Men expected he should be devoured;' but the proceedings were stopped by an order from the queen-mother, and Wickliffe was dismissed, like the apostles Peter and John, with a warning not to say such things again. About this time he appears to have commenced sending out his 'poor priests,' evangelists, and missionaries to propagate in the country places the truth of the Gospel.

The same year, 1378, began the great schism in the Papacy. Early in 1379 Wickliffe fell dangerously ill at Oxford, and an attempt was made by a party of monks, who visited him, to induce him to recant. With an energy startling in one so feeble and pale, he faced them and said, 'I shall not die, but live; and again declare the evil deeds of the friars.' He did live, and in the following year he dealt the hardest blow of all to error and evil by the completion and publication of his English Bible, on which he had worked between ten and fifteen years. It was translated from the Vulgate, and is believed to have been the first complete version in English. In 1381 he publicly attacked the doctrine of transubstantiation; sentence of condemnation was pronounced by the university, and even Lancaster could not support him. The breaking out of Wat Tyler's insurrection the same year intensified the alarm which his opinions excited. A synod was held in London, at which Courtenay, now primate, presided; Wickliffe's opinions were declared heretical; and soon after a royal ordinance was issued for the arrest and imprisonment of Lollards, his followers. Wickliffe addressed a petition to the Commons, and they demanded the repeal of the ordinance.

In, November, 1382, he was cited before the primate at Oxford; presented two confessions, one in Latin, the other in English; and without being again formally condemned, withdrew to his cure at Lutterworth. He was afterwards summoned to Rome by Urban VI., but was prevented by bodily weakness from obeying it. He was struck with paralysis while standing before the altar at Lutterworth, December 29, 1384, and was carried to his house, where on the last day of the year he peacefully died. No statute de Hæretico comburendo had yet been passed, and heresy was regarded in England as a spiritual offence, punishable only by spiritual censures; or Wickliffe must have been burnt. His doctrine was condemned by the Council of Constance, and his remains were, by order of the council, exhumed, burnt, and cast into the Swift, a brook running by Lutterworth. 'Thus this brook,' says Fuller, 'hath conveyed his ashes into Avon, Avon into Severn, Severn into the narrow seas, they into the main ocean; and thus the ashes of Wickliffe are the emblem of his doctrine, which now is dispersed all the world over.'

Most of Wickliffe's writings still remain in manuscript, and a catalogue of all the MSS. extant in London, Oxford, Cambridge, Lambeth, and Lincoln, Dublin, Paris, Vienna, and Prague, as well as in private collections, was printed in 1865, at the Clarendon Press, by Dr. Shirley. Wickliffe's New Testament has been several times printed, but his whole Bible first appeared in 1850, in 4 vols. 4to., under the editorship of Forshall and Madden. There are Lives of Wickliffe by Lewis, Le Bas, and Dr. Robert Vaughan. But a very important critical investigation of the usual accounts will be found in Dr. Shirley's learned 'Introduction' to the 'Fasciculi Zizaniorum Johannis Wyclif,' published in 1858, under the direction of the Master of the Rolls. A portrait is preserved in the vicarage of Wycliffe, of which the Earl of Denbigh possesses a replica. Its value as a likeness has been curiously verified. A living representative of the Wycliffe family, a Yorkshire clergyman, was accosted at Geneva, from his resemblance to this portrait, by an enthusiastic German student. The replica was exhibited in 1866, in the National Portrait Exhibition at South Kensington. Wickliffe's church at Lutterworth is about to be restored.

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The above information was gleaned from various sources and then put together by Colin Hinson ©1996.

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