English archbishop and Lord Keeper
Born 1582 Died 1650
John Williams, son of Edmund Williams
, a Welsh gentleman of property, was born in March 1582 and educated at St John's College, Cambridge
. He was ordained about 1605, and in 1610 he preached before King James I
, whose favour he quickly gained by his love of compromise. The result was the rapid promotion of Williams in the church; he obtained several livings besides prebends at Hereford
. In 1617 he became chaplain to the king, in 1619 dean of Salisbury
, and in the following year dean of Westminster
On the fall of Bacon in 1621 Williams, who had meantime ingratiated himself with the Duke of Buckingham, was appointed Lord Keeper, and was at the same time made bishop of Lincoln, retaining also the deanery of Westminster. As a political adviser of the king Williams consistently counselled moderation and compromise between the unqualified assertion of the royal prerogative and the puritan views of popular liberties which were. now coming to the front. He warned Buckingham and Prince Charles of the perils of their project for the Spanish marriage, and after their return from Madrid he encountered their resentment by opposing war with Spain.
The Lord Keeper's counsel of moderation was less pleasing to Charles I than it had been to his father. The new king was offended by Williams's advice to proceed with caution in dealing with the parliament, with the result that within a few months of Charles's accession the Great Seal was taken from Williams. In the quarrel between the king and the Commons over the petition of right, Williams took the popular side in condemning arbitrary imprisonment by the sovereign. In the matter of ecclesiastical administration he similarly followed a middle course; but he had now to contend against the growing influence of Laud and the extreme high church party. A case was preferred against him in the Star Chamber of revealing state secrets, to which was added in 1635 a charge of subornation of perjury, of which he had undoubtedly been guilty and for which he was condemned in 1637 to pay a fine of £1,000, to be deprived of the temporalities of all his benefices, and to be imprisoned during the king's pleasure. He was sent to the Tower. In 1639 he was again condemned by the Star Chamber for libelling Laud, a further heavy fine being imposed for this offence. In 1641 he recovered his liberty on the demand of the House of Lords, who maintained that as a peer he was entitled to be summoned to parliament.
When the Long Parliament met, Williams was made chairman of a committee of inquiry into innovations in the church; and he was one of the bishops consulted by Charles as to whether he should veto the bill for the attainder of Strafford. In December 1641 the king, anxious to conciliate public opinion, appointed Williams archbishop of York. In the same month he was one of the twelve bishops impeached by the Commons for high treason and committed to the Tower. Released on an undertaking not to go to Yorkshire, a promise which he did not observe, the archbishop was enthroned in York Minster in June 1642. On the outbreak of the Civil War, after visiting Conway in the Royalist interest, he joined the king at Oxford; he then returned to Wales, and finding that Sir John Owen, acting on Charles's orders, had seized certain property in Conway Castle that had been deposited with the archbishop for safe-keeping, he went over to the Parliamentary side and assisted in the recapture of Conway Castle in November 1646. Williams, who was a generous benefactor of St John's College, Cambridge, died on the 25th of March 1650.
Being the entry for WILLIAMS, JOHN in the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica, the text of which lies within the public domain.