A Godly and Learned Sermon – Puritan William Fulke

A Godly and Learned Sermon – Puritan William Fulke

William Fulke D.D. (1538–1589), puritan divine, the son of Christopher Fulke, a wealthy citizen, was born in London in 1538, and is said to have been educated at St. Paul’s School. As a London schoolboy he was a contemporary of Edmund Campion, who defeated him in the competition for the silver pen offered as a prize to the city schools. He matriculated at St. John’s College, Cambridge, in November 1555. He graduated B.A. in January 1557–8, and M.A. in 1563. By his father’s desire he studied law at Clifford’s Inn for six years, when, finding legal studies increasingly distasteful, he returned to Cambridge, and applied himself to mathematics, languages, and theology. He had already made one or two trifling essays upon astronomical subjects (see below). His father refused to help him after he relinquished the law, but his election to a foundation fellowship in 1564 placed him in comparative independence.

He was thus enabled to study the text of holy scripture, having already taken up Hebrew and the other oriental languages then much neglected at Cambridge. In 1565 he was appointed principal lecturer of his college, in 1567 preacher and Hebrew lecturer, and in 1568 took his degree as B.D. Fulke on his return to Cambridge had attached himself to Thomas Cartwright (1535–1603), the puritan leader at Cambridge. He took a prominent part in the ‘vestiarian’ controversy, which was then distracting the university, and by his sermons and personal influence ‘beat into the heads of younger sort such a persuasion of the superstition of the surplice,’ that nearly three hundred at one time discarded it in the chapel of St. John’s. The dispute led to scenes of violence, barely stopping short of bloodshed (Strype, Annals, ii. i. 154). The contagion spread to other colleges. Discipline was relaxed, the whole university was in an uproar. Cecil found it necessary to interpose his authority as chancellor. He caused Fulke to be cited before him ‘by special commandment’ as the chief author of the dissension, intending, he said, ‘to proceed with him himself’ (ib. p. 156). Fulke was deprived of his fellowship, and expelled the college. He remained at Cambridge, took lodgings at the Falcon Inn in the Petty Cury, and continued to give lectures there and to hold public disputations.

The puritans supported their champion successfully. The decree of expulsion was speedily removed, and he was readmitted to his fellowship 21 March 1566–1567, and on the 15th of the following April was elected a senior fellow. At this period of his life Fulke fell under grave suspicion of conniving at an incestuous marriage. Owing to relaxation of ancient ecclesiastical authority, connections within the prohibited degrees had become painfully common, and of these, says Strype, ‘Cambridge was too guilty.’ Fulke was so strongly suspected of being concerned in one of these illegal unions that he deemed it prudent to resign his fellowship.

Fulke was twice married. By his wife Margaret he left two sons, Christopher and William, and four daughters, Mary, Hester, Elizabeth, and Ann. He bequeathed to his college a silver-gilt acorn-shaped cup, which is still in the possession of the society.

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