A conscience is a gift from God and George Abbot had a strong one. Often suffering from depression, one of his major misdeeds seemed to haunt him right to the grave. Yet do all believers not have major misdeeds? For who has not had a hand in killing the Vinekeeper’s Son? And who can plead the excuse of accidental homicide?
During the reign of Edward VI (1547-1553), Maurice Abbot, a clothmaker in Guildford, Surrey, England, and his wife Alice, became committed Protestants. And during their lifetime it wasn’t always easy to be so.
Edward, the boy king, tubercular and frail, had the distinction of being the first English king who was raised Protestant. Zealous for the Reformed cause, if he had lived longer, the Church of England might well have become more explicitly Protestant. But God took him at the tender age of sixteen. After Edward’s death it became difficult for Maurice and Alice to confess their faith publicly because Edward’s half sister, “Bloody” Mary Tudor, came to power. She vigorously tried to overturn the Reformation, and during her five-year reign, over 300 Protestants were burned at the stake.
But times of persecution vanished when Elizabeth I ascended to the English throne in 1558. The Abbots rejoiced in her coronation. They breathed a sigh of relief as they resided peaceably in a cottage nestled beneath some trees in close proximity to the Wey River, openly able to practice their faith.
Quite the Fish Story
Then, in the year 1562, Alice Abbot was heavily pregnant. Uncomfortable and unable sleep one night, Alice eventually fell into an uneasy slumber and into a strange dream. She dreamt that if she but ate a jackfish, (a fish of the pike family), the baby she carried would become a great person and rise to a situation of prominence. A peculiar dream indeed!
Maurice Abbot worked diligently at his trade but when all was said and done, clothworking was not a profitable business. The finishing of woven woolen cloth, was hard labor and paid very little. Alice related her unusual fish dream to Maurice and he shrugged.
A few weeks later, due to give birth any day, she fetched a pail of water from the nearby Wey River. Sweating with exertion, she lifted the pail out of the water, and was amazed to see a jackfish splash about in the bucket. Having had a craving for jackfish ever since her dream, she went home, cooked the fish and ate it. Maurice shrugged again. But the narrative became known about town. Folks enjoy a good story.
As it is with good stories, this one circulated outside the perimeters of the town of Guildford. After the baptism of the child, a few wealthy persons called on Maurice and Alice, offering to be patrons of the newborn baby who had been named George. Considering their low-born and rather impoverished condition, as well as the fact that they had little hope of sending their children to school, the couple thankfully accepted the provision.
Now whether or not George’s fortune would have prospered were it not for the jackfish tale is a matter of providential dispute. At any rate, George, as well as his older brother Robert, attended the free Royal Grammar School in Guildford and were taught reading, writing and Latin grammar. The school was free in name only; pupils consisted of those who could afford to pay the fees.
Because they were healthy, good-natured and of quick minds, the patrons sent the boys on to higher education. To make a long story short, George eventually graduated from Oxford. The school was a Puritan stronghold at that time, with teachers who admired Calvin and Augustine. Grounded in Reformed theology, George felt called to become a minister. Regarded as an excellent preacher, his sermons drew large, listening crowds.
The years flew by and in 1611, George the clothmaker’s son, rose to the rank of Archbishop of Canterbury. A bit of a gargantuan step – from the humble cottage on the banks of the Wey to Lambeth Palace on the banks of the Thames. His father and mother had died by this time. Dying within ten days of one another, they had been married for fifty-eight years. Perhaps it can be argued that their passing was an even more gargantuan step than that of their son George – from the humble cottage on the banks of the Wey to Everlasting Joy on the banks of the River of Life.
Prior to becoming archbishop, George had been selected by King James 1 of England, together with other scholars, to translate the Bible.
Calvinistic in theology, favoring the Puritans for their simplicity in worship, George Abbot remained within the Church of England. He never married and was a solitary man. Some considered him of a gloomy nature, unsmiling and rather somber; others counted him true to his principles and kind.