Featley: The Sweet Dipper (Part 3)

Today, under the influence of the Marxists, we would call William Kiffen a working-class guy who became successful. His opponent in the 1642 debate featured in Dippers Dipt, Daniel Featley (1582–1645), was also a working-class fellow.1 He was born in Oxford, but we might say that, though he was in Oxford, he was not of Oxford. His father was not a tutor or a respected minister, but a servant in Magdalen College and later a cook at Corpus Christi, another college in Oxford.2 Boys from the working class—the children of porters (the men who greet students in the college gate house), scouts (the people who clean up after the students in college), and cooks—do not typically get to attend Oxford. They do not expect to become members of Parliament. They expect to become porters, scouts, and cooks themselves, but young Daniel was able to go to school and then to win a place as an undergraduate in Corpus Christi. He did so well that not only did he finish his degree, but he was made a probationary fellow in the college.3 In 1613, he earned his Bachelor of Divinity (BD) degree, roughly the equivalent of the Modern MDiv degree, and was made a Doctor of Divinity (DD) in 1617.4 As a fellow in Corpus, he was made “terrae filius,” that is, “an orator privileged to make humorous and satirical strictures in a speech at the public ‘act’.”5 Thus, unlike Kiffen, Featley, through his education, changed social classes and remained a lifelong Episcopalian royalist—even through his brief and turbulent tenure as a member of the Westminster Assembly—and minister in the established church. Ironically, his new status did not confer upon him wealth. The successful entrepreneur, Kiffen became wealthy, while Featley’s financial fortunes were often rather less certain.

In 1607, while at university, Featley was “entangled in a conflict with an emerging anti-Calvinist faction at Corpus Christi.”6 John Rainolds (1549–1607) became what we might characterize as Featley’s rabbi (i.e., a senior scholar who “aided” Featley by assigning to him students to tutor, thus improving his income).7 Some of the anti-Calvinists in college, however, wanted those students for themselves.8 Things became so difficult that Featley nearly lost his job.

In the 1620s and 30s, he found himself at odds with another group, the Laudians. William Laud (1573–1645) was a fellow and president of St John’s College, Oxford, and in 1630, under Charles I, he was made Chancellor of the University. Three years later he was made Archbishop of Canterbury. He sought, to make “the communion table, rather than the pulpit the centre of the church.”9 He suppressed the Reformed ministers in the Church of England and the dissenters (e.g., Congregationalists and Presbyterians), and sought to impose the Book of Common Prayer and the Anglican liturgy on the Church of Scotland.10 Laud was an anti-Calvinist, sympathetic to the Remonstrants, and he did enough to anger his opponents that, in 1641, he was imprisoned in the Tower of London, tried and convicted in 1644, and put to death the next year.

One feature of Featley’s career that deserves mention is his work as a member of the First Oxford Company of translators of the Authorized Version of the Bible. This company translated the Major and Minor Prophets.[11] He served in a number of other capacities, including as chaplain to the Ambassador to France and as chaplain to the Archbishop in London.12

Perhaps the most colorful and perilous chapter in Featley’s career, however, was his brief tenure as a member of the Westminster Assembly. Remember that his opponent in the 1642 debate, Kiffen, was aligned with Cromwell and the Parliamentary forces during the English Civil War. Featley was and remained a Royalist, so it was a little odd that he was invited to sit at Westminster. But the invitation came at just the right moment and probably was an offer that, in the moment, he could not refuse. Remember too, that during the war, from January 1642, Oxford was the headquarters of the Royalists.13 Featley himself was attacked at his churches in Acton and Lambeth in 1642 and 1643.14 Some of his parishioners reported him to a Parliamentary committee for introducing hated Laudian measures into the church. He was on trial for these charges when Parliament issued its summons to Featley to attend the Westminster Assembly.15 He took his seat on July 1, 1643, while the verdict of the trial was still pending. On July 11, he was acquitted on a vote of 69–60.16 As Greg Salazar said, “At the beginning of the English Civil War, one way for outspoken Reformed royalist divines to avoid persecution was to declare allegiance to the Parliamentarian cause by attending the Westminster Assembly.”17

Featley later said that though his body was in the Assembly, his heart was with the Royalists. Later, in prison, he wrote that he very much regretted accepting the invitation, but that had he not, he would have lost his income (livings) entirely.18

How does a member of the Westminster Assembly end up in prison? The summons to the Assembly contained the same language as the Solemn League and Covenant, denouncing prelacy (Featley was a convinced Episcopalian). This language put the Episcopalians at Westminster in a difficult position.19

Some of Featley’s apparently numerous opponents used his opposition to the Solemn League and Covenant and his defense of episcopacy to get him arrested and jailed, but not without Featley’s help.20 In 1643, a “felt-maker,” Armiger Wardner, “befriended Featley” and gave him a message ostensibly from James Ussher (1581–1656), who was with the Royalists at Oxford. The message was supposed to indicate the King’s displeasure with Featley’s decision to sit at Westminster and insisted that he leave the Assembly. Featley, now caught between Parliament, who had just put him on trial, and his King, was initially puzzled why Ussher had not written to him directly, instead using Wardner as a go-between, but he decided that the message was legitimate.21 Wardner then offered to act as courier of a letter from Featley to Ussher.22 Featley sent a letter via Wardner to the King, with a few lines about the work of the Assembly and his plan to leave the Assembly when it was possible to do so. Wardner, as you might guess, was no friend of Featley’s, Ussher’s, or the King’s, but was strongly allied with the Parliamentary forces. He gave the letter to Parliamentary authorities, who arrested Featley for being a royalist spy. It has been suggested that Featley’s speeches defending episcopacy angered his opponents who set up a sting operation.23 The result was that he was removed from the Assembly and jailed.

When not arguing with Romanists or Laudians, Featley also argued with the emerging Baptist movement. Remarkably, while he was in prison, he was not only allowed to write for publication, he was asked to do so by those who had jailed him—and he agreed to do it.24 His “final prison work” is the work under consideration in this series, The Dippers Dipt (1645).25 It was just one of a number of works published by Reformed writers against the Baptists in this period, which include Thomas Edwards, Gangraena (London, 1644), Robert Baillie, Anabaptism, the True Fountaine of Independency, Brownisme, Antinomy, Familisme, and the most of the other errours, which for the time doe trouble the Church of England, unsealed (London, 1647).26 These writers, along with Ephraim Pagitt and Samuel Rutherford, warned of, in Paul Lim’s words, an “ecclesiological slippery slope” to anti-trinitarianism.27

We will consider the setting of the debate as reported by Featley next time, but Featley had already engaged “Anabaptists” in 1620, when he encountered Elias Tookey at his residence at Lambeth.28 The Anabaptists considered Featley to be a great enemy and he returned the favor.29 Dippers Dipt was also apparently stimulated by conversations he was having with his fellow prisoner, the General Baptist minister Henry Denne (1606–60),30 who wrote a work against Featley and Stephen Marshall (c. 1594–1655) titled, Antichrist Unmasked (London, 1645).

Featley, in bad health, was allowed out of prison to go to Chelsea College in London,31 in hopes of improving his health. A seventeenth-century English prison was no place for old men. He died of “asthma and dropsy” (excess fluid collecting in the cavities of the body causing extreme swelling). He died on April 17, 1645 and was buried at Lambeth Church. Anthony à Wood remembered him this way:

He was esteemed, by the generality, to be one of the most resolute and victorious champions of the reformed Protestant religion of any of his time; a most smart scourge of the church of Rome; a compendium of the learned tongues, and of all the liberal arts and sciences; and though of small stature, yet he had a great soul, and learning of all kinds compacted in him.32


  1. I am following Greg A. Salazar, Calvinist Conformity in Post-Reformation England: The Theology and Career of Daniel Featley (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2022). Hereafter, Salazar.
  2. Salazar, 17. In Oxford, Magdalen is pronounced “Maw-da-len.”
  3. It was not unusual for an Oxford college to hire an outstanding recent graduate as a tutor. In 1925, with his BA in hand and a “first” in “Greats” (i.e., he graduated Magna cum laude), C. S. Lewis was elected a fellow at Magdalen just that way. It is unclear from Salazar’s account whether Featley “proceeded MA” or earned a different masters degree. William S. Barker writes, “[Featley] received his B.A. on February 13, 1601 and his M.A. on April 17, 1605, having become a Fellow September 20, 1602.” William S. Barker, Puritan Profiles: 54 Influential Puritans at the Time When the Westminster Confession of Faith Was Written (Fearn, Ross-shire, UK: Christian Focus Publications, 1996), 48. The chronology suggests that Featley proceeded MA, i.e., his BA matured automatically to an MA.
  4. Barker, Puritan Profiles, 48. Salazar, 26, indicates that the BD was earned in residence.
  5. Oxford English Dictionary, s.v., “Terrae Filius.” The Encyclopedia of Oxford, ed. Christopher Hibbert and Edward Hibbert (London: Papermac, 1988), s.v., “Terrae Filius,” explains, “For a long time, this licensed buffoon was an integral part of the university’s degree ceremonies. Appointed by the proctors, he ‘delighted contemporaries’ in C. E. Mallett’s words, ‘with solemn fooling at least as early as Shakespearian days.’” Some of the speeches were colorful enough that “it was not unknown for them to be expelled or to have to make public apology.” Given Featley’s career, we might wonder that he was not one of those. “The office was allowed to lapse at the beginning of the eighteenth century, after a series of particularly offensive performances.” Jan Morris, ed., The Oxford Book of Oxford (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1978), s.v., “Terrae Filius.”
  6. Salazar, 18.
  7. Salazar, 18.
  8. Were this an episode of Inspector Morse, or Lewis, or Endeavor (young Morse and mysteriously much taller), this would be the beginning of a murder mystery.
  9. F. L. Cross and Elizabeth A. Livingstone eds., The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church (Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 2005), s.v., “Laud, William.”
  10. Cross, Livingstone, Oxford Dictionary, “Laud, William.”
  11. Salazar, 24–25.
  12. Salazar, 27.
  13. Salazar, 176. Marks from cannon balls can still be seen on some walls in Oxford.
  14. Salazar, 176.
  15. Salazar, 177.
  16. Salazar, 177.
  17. Salazar, 177.
  18. Salazar, 175.
  19. Salazar, 179.
  20. Salazar, 187.
  21. Salazar, 187.
  22. Salazar, 188.
  23. Salazar, 188.
  24. Barker, Puritan Portraits, 49.
  25. Salazar, 197.
  26. Salazar, 197, n. 140.
  27. Salazar, 197; Paul. C. H. Lim, Mystery Unveiled: The Crisis of the Trinity in Early Modern England (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012), 87–93.
  28. Salazar, 198.
  29. Salazar, 198.
  30. Salazar, 199.
  31. Not to be confused with the Modern Chelsea College, which is now part of the University of London.
  32. Quoted in Barker, Puritan Profiles, 50.

©R. Scott Clark. All Rights Reserved.

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