John Woolton

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John Woolton (or Wolton) (1535?-1594) was an English bishop of Exeter.


He was born at Whalley, Lancashire about 1535, the son of John Woolton of Wigan, by his wife Isabella, daughter of John Nowell of Bead Hall, Whalley, and sister of Alexander Nowell He was admitted student of Brasenose College, Oxford, on 26 October 1553, when aged about 18, and supplicated for the degree of B.A. on 26 April 1555, Soon afterwards he left with Nowell, his uncle, for Germany, and remained abroad until the accession of Elizabeth I. Edmund Grindal, bishop of London, ordained him as deacon on 25 April 1560, and he proceeded priest on 4 June 1560.

Woolton found patrons in William Alley, bishop of Exeter, and Francis Russell, 2nd Earl of Bedford. He was appointed to the rectory of Sampford Peverell (16 August 1561), to the rectory of Whimple, the vicarage of Braunton (4 May 1570), and to the rectory of Kenn (15 October 1573), all in Devon. A canonry at Exeter was conferred on him in March 1565; he read a divinity lecture there twice a week and preached twice every Sunday, and during the plague in the city during the summer of 1570 he attended the sick.

By the new charter, dated 28 July 1578, Woolton, probably through his uncle's influence, was constituted the first warden of the collegiate church of Manchester. On 11 October in that year Bridget, Countess of Bedford, recommended him to Lord Burghley as a fitting person to fill the vacant bishopric of Exeter. He was duly appointed to the see, supplicated for the degrees of B.D. and D.D. at Oxford on 26 May 1579, and was consecrated in the archiepiscopal chapel at Croydon on 2 August 1579. As the bishopric had become of small value, Woolton was allowed to hold with it the place of archpriest at Haccombe in Devon (20 October 1581) and the rectory of Lezant in Cornwall (1584).

Woolton remodelled the statutes at Exeter Cathedral. In 1581 he deprived Anthony Randal, parson of Lydford, a follower of the Family of Love, and made others who had accepted the Family's doctrines recant in the cathedral. Many strong accusations, some amounting to fraudulent misgovernment, were made against his running of the diocese to the archbishop of Canterbury in 1585. His answers to the charges were satisfactory, though he was obliged to admit his comparative poverty, and that he had placed his son in jail. His death took place at the palace, Exeter, on 13 March 1594, and he was buried in the cathedral on the south side of the choir on 20 March.


Woolton was author of the following theological treatises:

  • An Armour of Proofs, 1576.
  • A Treatise of the Immortalitie of the Soule, 1578.
  • The Christian Manuell, 1576; reprinted by the Parker Society, 1851.
  • The Castell of Christians and Fortresse of the Faithfull, n.d. [1577]: the dedication is to Francis Walsingham.
  • A new Anatomie of the whole Man, 1576.
  • Of the Conscience: a Discourse, 1570.
  • David's Chain.


The bishop was married and had a large family. His eldest son, John Woolton, M.A., a fellow of All Souls' College, Oxford, placed a monumental inscription to his father's memory in the cathedral; he retired from practice at Exeter to the estate of Pilland in the parish of Pilton, North Devon, which his father had purchased. Francis Godwin married a daughter.


  •  This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain[ "Woolton, John" ] Check |ws link in chapter= value (help). Dictionary of National Biography. London: Smith, Elder & Co. 1885–1900.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
Church of England titles
Preceded by
William Bradbridge
Bishop of Exeter
Succeeded by
Gervase Babington