(Bishop of Carlisle)

Died: 1570

John Best, Yorkshire by birth, Oxford by education, and the first Protestant Bishop of Carlisle, found his see no bed of roses. He was commissioned by the Queen to arm himself against the "ill dealings of papists, and other disaffected persons in his diocese".

In a letter to William Cecil, Bishop Best writes that thirteen or fourteen of his rectors and vicars refused to appear at his general visitation in 1561, and take the oath of allegiance, while in many churches in his diocese Mass continued to be said under the countenance and open protection of Lord Dacre; the clergy of the diocese he described as wicked imps of Antichrist, ignorant, stubborn and past measure, false and subtile. Fear only, he said, would make them obedient, and Lord Cumberland and Lord Dacre would not allow him to meddle with them. In 1562 the same Bishop complained that, between Lord Dacre and the Earls of Cumberland and Westmorland, "God's glorious gospel could not take place in the counties under their rule". The few Protestants "durst not be known for fear of a shrewd turn"; and the lords and magistrates looked through their fingers while the law was openly defied. The county was full of wishings and wagers for the alteration of religion; rumours and tales of the Spaniards and Frenchmen to come in for the reformation of the same; while the articles of the secret league between the Guises and Spain for the extirpation of heresy circulated in manuscript in the houses of the northern gentlemen. Edmund Grindal, Bishop of London, in a letter dated 27 Dec 1563, in which he begs Cecil to appoint a Mr. Scot to a vacant prebend at Carlisle, says:

"The Bishop of Carlisle hath complained to me for want of preachers in his diocese. All his prebendaries are ignorant priests, or old, unlearned monks"

In another letter he says:

"I pray you be good to my lord of Carlisle (i.e. Bishop Best) the bringer. There be marvellous practices to deface him in my lawless country"

Best's troubles must have been increased in 1568, when Mary, Queen of Scotland, landed in Cumberland and was conducted to Carlisle Castle, a virtual prisoner, by Mr. (afterwards Sir) Richard Lowther, deputy to the Lord Warden, Lord Scrope. To Carlisle also repaired Thomas Percy, Earl of Northumberland, who demanded that the Queen should be handed over to his custody, and who, when Lowther declined to do so, abused that gentleman in very rough terms. Carlisle became the centre of intrigue among the papal party, but the gentry of Cumberland and Westmorland showed no enthusiasm whatever in the Queen's behalf, though their two counties and Northumberland were then reckoned the stronghold of English Catholicism. After a stay of two months, Queen Mary was removed, in Jul 1568, to Bolton, in Yorkshire.

In the following year the Rising of the North took place under the Earls of Northumberland and Westmorland, who again reared the banner that had been flown in Pilgrimage of Grace. Their objects were to rescue the Queen of Scots, to subvert the government of Elizabeth, and to re-establish the ancient faith. Leonard Dacre instigated the Earls of Northumberland and Westmoreland to rise; then betrayed them to Elizabeth. Lord Scrope, relying on Dacre's loyalty, moved out from Carlisle to intercept the two earls, should they march for Scotland, leaving Bishop Best in command of the castle of Carlisle. He was recalled by rumour of a plot to seize the castle and murder the Bishop. The rising soon became a flight: the two earls arrived as fugitives at Naworth, where the wily Dacre gave them but short shelter; he was in no mood to compromise himself, and the earls fled to Liddisdale. But the Queen had discovered Dacre's double dealings: she gave Lord Hunsdon peremptory orders to apprehend that "cankred subtill traitor", as she called him.

Bishop Best, with fifteen other bishops, signed the Saxon homilies, then published by Archbishop Parker, and died in 1570. Richard Barnes was his successor.

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