COLET, JOHN (1467?-1510), English divine and educationist, the eldest son of Sir Henry Colet (lord mayor of London 1486 and 1495), was born in London about 1467. He was educated at St Anthony's school and at Magdalen College, Oxford, where he took the M.A. degree in 1490. He already held the non-resident rectory of Dennington, Suffolk, and the vicarage of St Dunstan's, Stepney, and was now collated rector of Thurning, Hunts. In 1493 he went to Paris and thence to Italy, studying canon and civil law, patristics and the rudiments of Greek. During his residence abroad he became acquainted with Budaeus (Guillaume Budé) and Erasmus, and with the teaching of Savonarola. On his return to England in 1496 he took orders and settled at Oxford, where he lectured on the epistles of St Paul, replacing the old scholastic method of interpretation by an exegesis more in harmony with the new learning. His methods did much to influence Erasmus, who visited Oxford in 1498, and in after years Erasmus received an annuity from him. Since 1494 he had been prebendary of York, and canon of St Martin le Grand, London. In 1502 he became prebendary of Salisbury, in 1505 prebendary of St Paul's, and immediately afterwards dean of the same cathedral, having previously taken the degree of doctor of divinity. Here he continued his practice of lecturing on the books of the Bible; and he soon afterwards established a perpetual divinity lecture, on three days in each week, in St Paul's church. About the year 1508, having inherited his father's large wealth, Colet formed his plan for the re-foundation of St Paul's school, which he completed in 1512, and endowed with estates of an annual value of £122 and upwards. The celebrated grammarian William Lilly was the first master, and the company of mercers were (in 1510) appointed trustees, the first example of non-clerical management in education. The dean's religious opinions were so much more liberal than those of the contemporary clergy (whose ignorance and corruption he denounced) that they deemed him little better than a heretic; but William Warham, the archbishop, refused to prosecute him. Similarly Henry VIII. held him in high esteem despite his sermons against the French wars. In 1514 he made the Canterbury pilgrimage, and in 1515 preached at Wolsey's installation as cardinal. Colet died of the sweating sickness on the 16th of September 1519. He was buried on the south side of the choir of St Paul's, where a stone was laid over his grave, with no other inscription than his name. Besides the preferments above mentioned, he was rector of the gild of Jesus at St Paul's and chaplain to Henry VIII.
Colet, though never dreaming of a formal breach with the Roman Church, was a keen reformer, who disapproved of auricular confession, and of the celibacy of the clergy. Though no great scholar or writer, he was a powerful force in the England of his day, and helped materially to disintegrate the medieval conditions still obtaining, and to introduce the humanist movement. Among his works, which were first collectively published in 1867-1876, are Absolutissimus de octo orationis partium constructione libellus (Antwerp, 1530), Rudimenta Grammatices (London, 1539), Daily Devotions, Monition to a Godly Life, Epistolae ad Erasmum, and commentaries on different parts of the Bible.
See F. Seebohm, The Oxford Reformers; J. H. Lupton, Life of John Colet (1887); art. in The Times, July 7, 1909.
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)