Dr. Thomas Bilson was of German parentage, and related to the Duke of Bavaria. He was born in Winchester, and educated in the school of William de Wykeham. He entered New College, at Oxford, and was made a Fellow of his College in 15645. He began to distinguish himself as a poet; but, on receiving ordination, gave himself wholly to theological studies. He was soon made Prebendary of Winchester, and Warden of the College there. In 1596, he was made Bishop of Worcester; and three years later, was translated to the see of Winchester, his native place. He engaged in most of the polemical contests of his day, as a stiff partizan of the Church of England. When the controversy arose as to the meaning of the so called Apostles’ Creed, in asserting the descent of Christ into hell, Bishop Bilson defended the literal sense, and maintained that Christ went there, not to suffer, but to wrest the keys of hell out of the Devil’s hands. For this doctrine he was severely handled by Henry Jacob, who is often called the father of modern Congregationalism, and also by other Puritans. Much feeling was excited by the controversy, and Queen Elizabeth, in her ire, commanded her good bishop, “neither to desert the doctrine, nor let the calling which he bore in the Church of God, be trampled under foot, by such unquiet refusers of truth and authority.” The despotic spinster ruled with such energy, both in Church and state, as to sanction the saying, that “old maids’ children are well governed!” Dr. Bilsons’ most famous work was entitled “The Perpetual Government of Christ’s Church,” and was published in 1593. It is still regarded as one of the ablest books ever written in behalf of Episcopacy. Dr. Bilson died in 1616, at a good old age, and was buried in Westminster Abbey. It was said of him, that he “carried prelature in his very aspect.” Anthony Wood proclaims him so “complete in divinity, so well skilled in languages, so read in the Fathers and Schoolmen, so judicious is making use of his readings, that at length he was found to be no longer a soldier, but a commander in chief in the spiritual warfare, especially when he became a bishop!”

Richard Bancroft