WILLIAM PRYNNE (1600-1669), English parliamentarian, son of Thomas Prynne by Marie Sherston, was born at Swainswick near Bath in 1600. He was educated at Bath Grammar School, matriculated at Oriel College, Oxford, in 1618, obtained his B.A. in 1621, was admitted a student of Lincoln's Inn the same year, and was called to the Bar in 1628. He was Puritan to the core, with a tenacious memory, a strength of will bordering upon obstinacy, and a want of sympathy with human nature. His first book, The Perpetuity of a Regenerate Man's Estate (1627), defended one of the main Calvinistic positions, and The Unloveliness of Love-locks and Health's Sickness (1628) attacked prevailing fashions without any sense of proportion, treating follies on the same footing as scandalous vices.
In 1629 Prynne came forward as the assailant of Arminianism in doctrine and of ceremonialism in practice, and thus drew down upon himself the anger of Laud. Histrio-mastix, published in 1633, was a violent attack upon stage plays in general, in which the author pointed out that kings and emperors who had favoured the drama had been carried off by violent deaths, which assertion might easily be interpreted as a warning to the king, and applied a disgraceful epithet to actresses, which, as Henrietta Maria was taking part in the rehearsal of a ballet, was supposed to apply to the queen. After a year's imprisonment in the Tower Prynne was sentenced by the star chamber on the 17th of February 1634 to be imprisoned for life, and also to be fined f5000, expelled from Lincoln's Inn, rendered incapable of returning to his profession, degraded from his degree in the university of Oxford, and set in the pillory, where he was to lose both his ears. The latter portion of the sentence was carried out on the 7th of May, and the rest of his punishment inflicted except the exaction of the fine. There is no reason to suppose that his punishment was unpopular. In 1637 he was once more in the star chamber, together with Bastwick and Burton. In A Divine Tragedy lately acted he had attacked the Declaration of Sports, and in News from Ipswich he had assailed Wren and the bishops generally. On the 30th of June a fresh sentence, that had been delivered on the 14th, was executed. The stumps of Prynne's ears were shorn off in the pillory, and he was branded on the cheeks with the letters S.L., meaning "seditious libeller," which Prynne, however, interpreted as "stigmata laudis." He was removed to Carnarvon Castle, and thence to Mont Orgueil Castle in Jersey, where he occupied himself in writing against popery.
Immediately upon the meeting of the Long Parliament in 1640 Prynne was liberated. On the 28th of November he entered London in triumph, and on the 2nd of March 1641, reparation was voted by the Commons, at the expense of his persecutors. Prynne now attacked the bishops and the Roman Catholics and defended the taking up of arms by the parliament. The words "Touch not mine anointed," he declared in the Vindication of Psalm cv. ver. 1g (1642), only commanded kings not to oppress their subjects. In 1643 he took an active part in the proceedings against Nathaniel Fiennes for the surrender of Bristol, and showed a vindictive energy in the prosecution of Archbishop Laud. He manipulated the evidence against him, and having been entrusted with the search of Laud's papers, he published a garbled edition of the archbishop's private "Diary," entitled A Breviate of the Life of Archbishop Laud. He also published Hidden Works of Darkness brought to Light in order to prejudice the archbishop's case, and after his execution, Canterbury's Doom.. . an unfinished account of the trial commissioned by the House of Commons. Prynne supported a national church controlled by the state, and issued a series of tracts against independency, including in his attacks Henry Burton his former fellow sufferer in the pillory, John Lilburne and John Goodwin [e.g. Independence Examined (1644); Brief Animadversions on Mr John Goodwin's Theomachia (1644), &c.]. He denounced Milton's Divorce i at Pleasure, was answered in the Colasterion, and contemptuously referred to in the sonnet "On the Forcers of Conscience." He also opposed violently the Presbyterian system, and denied the right of any Church to excommunicate except by leave of the state [e.g. Four Short Questions (1645); A Vindication of Four Serious Questions (1645)]. He was throughout an enemy of individual freedom in religion.
Prynne took the side of the parliament against the army in 1647, supported the cause of the eleven impeached members, and visited the university of Oxford as one of the parliamentary commissioners. On the 7th of November 1648 Prynne was returned as member for Newport in Cornwall. He at once took part against those who called for the execution of Charles, and on the 6th of December delivered a speech of enormous length in favour of conciliating the king. The result was his inclusion in "Pride's Purge" on the 'morning of the 6th, when, having resisted to military violence, he was imprisoned. After recovering his liberty Prynne retired to Swainswick. On the 7th of June 1649 he was assessed to the monthly contribution laid on the country by parliament. He not only refused to pay, but published A Legal Vindication of the Liberties of England, arguing that no tax could be raised without the consent of the two houses. In the same year he began a long account of ancient parliaments, intended to reflect on the one in existence, and in June 1650 he was imprisoned in Dunster Castle, afterwards at Taunton, and in June 1651 at Pendennis Castle. He was at last offered his discharge on giving a bond of £1000 to do nothing to the prejudice of the commonwealth. This he refused, and an unconditional order for his release was given on the r8th of February 1653. After his release Prynne further expressed his feelings in defence of advowsons and patrons, an attack on the Quakers (1655), and in a pamphlet against the admission of the Jews to England (A Short Demurrer to the Jews) issued in 1656. On the occasion of the offer of the crown to Cromwell he issued King Richard the Third Revived (1657), and on the creation of the new House of Lords A Plea for the Lords (1658).
On the restoration of the Rump Parliament by the army of the 7th of May 1659 fourteen of the secluded members, with Prynne among them, claimed admittance. The claim was refused, but on the 9th, through the inadvertence of the doorkeepers, Prynne, Annesly and Hungerford succeeded in taking their seats. When they were observed the house purposely adjourned for dinner. In the afternoon the doors were found guarded; the secluded members were not permitted to pass, and a vote was at once taken that they should not again be allowed to enter the house. Wrathful at the failure of his protest and at the continuance of the republican government, Prynne attacked his adversaries fiercely in print. In England's Confusion, published on the 30th of May 1659, in the True and Full Narrative, and in The Brief Necessary Vindication, he gave long accounts of the attempt to enter the house and of his ejection, while in the Curtaine Drawne he held up the claims of the Rump to derision. In Shuffling, Cutting and Dealing, 26th of May, he rejoiced at the quarrels which he saw arising, for "if you all complain I hope I shall win at last." Concordia discors pointed out the absurdity of the constant tendency to multiply oaths, while "remonstrances," "narratives," "queries," "prescriptions," "vindications," "declarations" and "statements" were scattered broadcast. Upon the cry of the "good old cause" he is especially sarcastic and severe in The True Good Old Cause Rightly Stated and other pamphlets. Loyalty Banished explains itself. His activity and fearlessness in attacking those in power during this eventful year were remarkable, and an ironical petition was circulated in Westminster Hall and the London streets complaining of his indefatigable scribbling. On the 27th of December Prynne made another fruitless attempt to take his seat. In obedience to the popular voice, however, on the 21st of February 1660, the ejected members of 1648, led in triumph by Prynne, wearing a basket-hilt sword, re-entered the house. He supported the Restoration in this parliament, and in the Convention Parliament, which met on the 25th of April 1660, and in which he sat for Bath, he urged severe measures against the regicides, and the exclusion of several individuals from the Act of Indemnity. He was foremost in support of the claims of the Presbyterians and against the bishops; advocated the indiscriminate infliction of penalties, and demanded that the officials of the commonwealth should be compelled to refund their salaries. He was nominated a commissioner for disbanding the army, and was appointed keeper of the records in the Tower, a post in which he performed useful services.
Prynne was again returned as member for Bath on the 8th of May 1661, in spite of the vehement efforts of the Royalists headed by Sir T. Bridge. This parliament was bent upon the humiliation of the Presbyterians, and Prynne appears in his familiar character of protester. On the 18th of this month he moved that the Engagement, with the Solemn League and Covenant, should be burned by the hangman. About the same time he published a pamphlet advocating the reform of the Prayer Book, while a tract issued on the 15th of July, Sundry reasons against the new intended Bill for governing and reforming Corporations, was declared illegal, false, scandalous and seditious; Prynne being censured, and only escaping punishment by submission. The continued attacks upon the Presbyterians led him to publish his Short, Sober, Pacific Examination of Exuberances in the Common Prayer, as well as the Apology for Tender Consciences touching Not Bowing at the Name of Jesus. In 1662 there appeared also the Brevia parliamentaria rediviva, possibly a portion of the Brief Register of Parliamentary Writs, of which the fourth and concluding volume was published in 1664. During 1663 he served constantly on committees, and was chairman of the committee of supply in July, and again in April 1664.
In the third session Prynne was once more, on the 13th of May 1664, censured for altering the draft of a bill relating to public-houses after commitment, but the house again, upon his submission remitted the offence, and he again appears on the committee of privileges in November and afterwards. In 1665 and 1666 he published the second and first volumes respectively of the Exact Chronological Vindication and Historical Demonstration of the supreme ecclesiastical jurisdiction exercised by the English kings from the original planting of Christianity to the death of Richard I. In the latter year especially he was very busy with his pen against the Jesuits. In January 1667 he was one of three appointed to manage the evidence at the hearing of the impeachment of Lord Mordaunt, and in November of the same year spoke in defence of Clarendon, so far as the sale of Dunkirk was concerned, and opposed his banishment, and this appears to have been the last time that he addressed the house. In 1668 was published his Aurum reginae or Records concerning Queen-gold, the Brief Animadversions on Coke's Institutes in 1669, and the History of King John, Henry III. and Edward I., in which the power of the Crown over ecclesiastics was maintained, in 1670. The date of the Abridgment of the Records of the Tower of London, published 1689, is doubtful, though the preface is dated 1656-1657. Prynne died unmarried, in his lodgings at Lincoln's Inn, on the 24th of October 1669, and was buried in the walk under the chapel there. He left one portion of his books to Lincoln's Inn and another to Oriel College. His works number about 200 and occupy, together with the replies which they excited, twenty-four columns in the catalogue of the British Museum. Lists of them are given in Wood's Athenae Oxonienses (ed. P. Bliss), vol. iii., and in Documents relating to the Proceedings against William Prynne. Bibliography. - Article by C. H. Frith in the Diet. of Nat. Biography; Life of Prynne, in Wood's Ath. Oxon., ed. by Bliss, iii. 844; Documents relating to the Proceedings against Prynne, ed. by S. R. Gardiner for the Camden Society (1877); Hist. of Swainswick, by R. E. M. Peach; Gardiner's Hist. of England, of the Civil War and of the Commonwealth; Notes and Queries, 8th series, vol. viii. p. 361 ("Letter to Charles II., May 2, 1660"), 9th series, vol. ii.
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