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One of the most problematic tasks which the historian must address is the assessment of people's opinions and the motives for their actions. There is violent disagreement about the opinions of individuals for whom there exist extensive archives of correspondence, whose ideas are recorded in numerous printed works and whose political associations and circles of friends help to disclose their views. How much more difficult then to assess the motives of a man for whom such sources are very slight, whose ideas are set out in the shortest of polemical tracts, and whose opinions, when assembled, seem to represent a mass of contradictions? Such a man was Benjamin Carier whose change of religious opinions and notorious conversion to Rome are the subject of this article. He was a chaplain to James I but his beliefs were not fully attuned to those of the Jacobean clerical establishment and he decided towards the end of his life to embrace Roman Catholicism. He was apparently just a minor churchman whose early promise was never fulfilled and who changed horses out of pique at his enemies' dominance in the Church of England. His conversion in 1613 caused a brief stir but in less than a year he was dead. His influence in the established Church is uncertain; his real doctrinal beliefs appear to be lost or polemicised beyond the point where they can be used to analyse his transfer of religious allegiance.
Yet an examination of Carier's change of opinion and of the mental and physical crossing of the boundaries between the Churches which was involved provides an insight into contemporary perceptions of religious division. Carier is known to modern historians principally as a dissenter from 'Calvinist' orthodoxy in the Jacobean Church. They have viewed him only in the bright light concentrated upon him while he was a member of the Church of England. His exit from that Church means that he, like the sparrow passing out of the door of King Edwin's hall in Bede's Ecclesiastical history, has vanished into a wintry world, one to which the gaze of the mainstream ecclesiastical historian is seldom directed. Historians have tended to lose sight of him as he passes from the Church of England to the Church of Rome. It is the contention of this article that it is possible to recover Carier's ideas and that a reconstruction of his theology, his dissentient position within the Church of England and his conversion is valuable, and not only in reaching an understanding of his own motivation. For it also adds to our knowledge of the incidence of fluctuation between the Church of England and the Church of Rome, a complex issue where numbers have previously been underestimated, and sheds light on the relationship between the two Churches in this period, and the way in which people defined their religious allegiance in England.
Carier's career before April 1613 was divided between Cambridge, Canterbury and the court. His progress in the Church was chequered. Advancement was satisfactory in that he accumulated a number of livings in Kent and Sussex from various patrons and became chaplain successively to John Whitgift and James I. But despite his royal patron he never rose beyond his royal chaplaincy and his prebend at Canterbury. At Cambridge he failed to obtain the mastership of Corpus Christi College in 1603 in a bitterly disputed election. These early setbacks were compounded by later reverses at court.(1) Most of the surviving material on him concerns the last year of his life. In the second half of April 1613 he went abroad, in the first instance to Spa, for, he said, health reasons. The standard account then relates that he converted to Roman Catholicism, and travelled from Spa to Cologne where, by early August, he had made contact with the rector of the Jesuit college. At the invitation of Cardinal du Perron he made his way gradually to Paris. There, in mid-1614, he died after producing a treatise in the form of an open letter to James I which explained his conversion and castigated Puritan elements in the English Church. In the light of this letter's bitterness about his enemies and its insane optimism about the possibility of reuniting the Roman and English Churches Carier's motives for turning to Rome have generally been described as a combination of self-interest and an ecumenism which the Jacobean Church could not accommodate.(2)
Nevertheless this account is hardly satisfactory. If he was a 'careerist', dissatisfied with his lack of advancement in England, Carier left it very late to change horses, and did not do much to better his fortunes abroad. Even if he picked up the odd clerical pension this does not adequately explain his actions.(3) If he intended that his conversion tract, his Treatise, should put pressure on James and the clerical establishment in England, it is surprising that it took so long to appear in print.(4) Did he really think that James would feel as he did about reunion? How many people did he expect to accept his distinctly eccentric analysis of the divisions within the Church of England? If he had been a moderate why did he begin to associate with Jesuits? As George Hakewill said, 'sure I am that talking of "Unitie and Peace" ... savours not of a Iesuits spirit'.(5) If he had been a crypto-Catholic for some time in England why is there so little evidence of earlier association with Catholics or with English political factions which had Catholic tendencies?(6)
Historians have tended to fasten on one specific motive, either his career problems, his anti-Calvinism, or his sympathies with Roman ideology, and to give that as the reason for his conversion. But to take him (and, for that matter, any other convert in this period) one-dimensionally - as, for example, a careerist or as an anti-Calvinist - is to misinterpret why such as he might have joined the Roman communion. This is not to deny that the various motives which he expressed and which were attributed to him were not reasons for converting, or that his career and doctrinal difficulties did not influence the timing of his change. But all such motivations taken together are not sufficient to explain his conversion. Nor does it help merely to introduce some kind of priority into this catalogue of reasons - for example that he was primarily a theological moderate who also happened to have a career problem. Equally, to interpret his abandonment of the Church of England as a rejection of a list of doctrinal points insisted on by orthodox Calvinists, or a plea for some kind of pre-Laudian ritualism and decency in worship, is to adopt an artificially clarified politicisation of his motives. This would be to accept Carier's polemic at face value, and to ignore the more intricate matrix within which it was written - a matrix which may be a key to reinterpreting the division between the Churches of England and Rome in this period.
To deal first with the vexed question of his career. Many English converts who went abroad were thought to have done so because of career difficulties. Protestants said that Catholics deliberately proselytised among the discontented, and exploited English clerical dissatisfaction.(7) High profile converts - Carier, Theophilus Higgons, James Wadsworth and Marc'Antonio de Dominis - were routinely accused of transferring their allegiance out of ambition. John Meredyth inveighed against the 'Ambitious Spirits, impatient of the advancement of persons more worthy then themselves, [who] perfidiously rye to the Tents of Antichrist'. Only unworthy, unspiritual motives could induce apostasy from the true Church.(8)
Carier attracted all the more uncharitable of Protestant thoughts in this respect. Hakewill said that 'his immoderate Ambition alone ... was doubtless sufficient to corrupt a stronger judgement then his, in matter of Religion; specially being crossed in his designes'. His tarrying in and around Spa was probably just in expectation of 'some newes of a Bishopricke, or a Deanry'.(9) Carier had experienced enough career difficulties to make such charges stick: in 1603, the mastership election at Corpus Christi College had gone horribly wrong;(10) he experienced financial hardship;(11) higher ecclesiastical preferment seemed quite beyond his grasp; in May 1610 he fished unsuccessfully for additional appointments, including the then vacant see of Rochester and the deaneries of Rochester and Canterbury.(12)
It is unlikely, though, that he converted because of a relatively unsatisfactory income or because he could not get the deaneries of Rochester or Canterbury. A much more significant 'career' reason for conversion among the clerical waverers of this period was that they found themselves being pushed from their place on the ladder of preferment, whether Catholic or Protestant, when their dissident views or affiliations started to isolate them. This was certainly a common factor in many of the conversions of Catholic clerics to Protestantism - people like the notorious northern priest Thomas Bell who was ostracised because of his dissenting opinion about occasional conformity, or the political casualties of the appellant disputes among the English secular clergy, people like Ralph Ithell and Robert Fisher.(13) Had Carier been suffering similar ostracism among Protestants? Gondomar reported in October 1613 that Carier had preached a sermon before James I in 1612 which he had been leaned on to modify. However, he would not co-operate, and 'from then on this king did not manifest either the same favour or pleasure as before towards him'.(14) His real problem, though, was that he had no firm base in any political group, not even in the court factions (frequently labelled 'Spanish' and 'French') which contained Catholic elements.(15) The fact that he had to be advised by an English correspondent early in 1614 of the political advantages which he might derive from a French …