Website of the Laceby History Group

John Whitgift

Rector of Laceby 1571 - 1576

John Whitgift was the eldest son of Henry Whitgiftprosperous Grimsby merchant, and his wife Anne (nee Dynewell).

Henry Whitgift was descended from an ancient West Riding family, and Anne was a lady of Grimsby. They lived in the Bull Ring, and had a family of 6 sons.

John Whitgift was born in the year 1530 , which was right in the middle of the reign of Henry the Eighth, when the first seeds of Protestantism were being sown, after Henry's break with the Papacy over his domestic affairs.

John's early schooling was supervised by his uncle Robert Whitgift, who was the last Abbot of Wellow, Wellow Abbey, situated in Grimsby between Abbey Road and Welholme Road, was a monastery of Black Canons of the Order of St. Augustine . It is said that the Abbot was very favourable to the New Learning, and was very influential in John's early upbringing in the Protestant faith.

The Abbot encouraged John's parents to send him away to school and he went off to St. Anthony's School in London.

At the age of 20 he entered Cambridge University, originally attending Queens College, but he quickly transferred to Pembroke College , which was becoming a recognized centre of Protestant thinking under its Master, Dr. Nicholas Ridley (1500-55) 1 who was later to become Bishop of London and after whom Ridley Hall, Cambridge is named .

Due to a remarkable coincidence, the Court of Ridley Hall is today one of the Joint patrons of the living of St. Margaret's at Laceby because Canon H.W. Knight, Rector of Laceby 1889-1944 was educated there, and the living was bequeathed to Ridley Hall by his widow.

Within 5 years John had gained both a Bachelor and a Master of Arts degree and become a fellow (lecturer) at Peterhouse College.

He was expected to go into the Church, but by this time Henry the Eighth and his son Edward the  seventh had the both died and Mary Tudor had acceded to the throne and turned the country back to the Roman church.

It was not until after Queen Mary's death in 1568, that John took up his religious studies and he took Holy Orders in 1560.

Whilst still at Cambridge, he was made a chaplain to the Bishop of Ely, who offered him a living in the Diocese of Ely, whilst he continued his studies.

He gained a Bachelor of Divinity degree in 1563 and he was then appointed Lady Margaret Professor of Divinity.

In 1566, at the young age of thirty six, he was appointed Master of Pembroke College, his former college.

His reputation as a preacher and scholar attracted the attention of Queen Elizabeth I, and within a year she had appointed him to be Master of Trinity College, which was in her prerogative and considered the highest academic post in the University. She also appointed him Regius Professor of Divinity.

He subsequently became Vice Chancellor of the University.

John Whitgift was a pluralist on a grand scale and whilst retaining most of these University posts he accepted the position of Dean of Lincoln in 1571.

He gave up the livings in the Diocese of Ely, but on becoming Dean, he accepted among others the living of Laceby.

Although he moved his residence from Cambridge to Lincoln, we do not know if he ever resided in Laceby, or if he even preached here.

In 1576, after nearly six years service to the Diocese of Lincoln , Queen Elizabeth appointed him to be Bishop of Worcester in order to strengthen the bench of Bishops in Parliament with supporters of the Crown and John gave up all his posts in the Diocese, and his positions at Cambridge University.

Although John Whitgift was a Calvanist at heart, his early schooling by his uncle Robert had instilled in him a "middle of the road " attitude to the Church of England, and this was admired by Queen Elizabeth who looked upon Roman Catholicism as a political danger and did not want to ruled from Rome. Equally she feared extreme Protestantism as a threat to the Monarchy which would have the Church controlled from Geneva.

Queen Elizabeth appointed John Whitgift to be Archbishop of Canterbury in 1583 at the age of 53, a position he held until his death at the age of 74 years.

John inherited considerable wealth from his father and whilst living at Lambeth Palace lived a very lavish lifestyle .

He also had a country manor at Croydon where he founded a Hospital, which also incorporated Almshouses and a Free School.

John Whitgift presided at the funeral of Queen Elizabeth I in 1603, and he also enthroned James 1 that same year.


He died a year later in 1604 and is buried in Croydon. John Whitgift is remembered in Laceby by Whitgift Close, and there are two stained Glass windows in St. Margaret's Church with Whitgift connections.

In the Vestry, there is a Quatrefoil window, which has at its centre the Shield from Archbishop Whitgift's Coat of Arms, whilst the Knight memorial window in the Chancel depicts the induction of John Whitgift as Dean of Lincoln.

Whitgift School in Grimsby also acts a fitting memorial to this worthy son of Grimsby.

These local " memorials " commemorate the life of this outstanding scholar, academic and pastor, who did much to shape the Church of England in its early years, which it has broadly maintained to this day, and whose life touched briefly the Parish of Laceby.

by Dennis Read.