GOSTLIN (GOSLYN), John (1569-1626), of Caius College, Cambridge and Exeter, Devon.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1604-1629, ed. Andrew Thrush and John P. Ferris, 2010
Available from Cambridge University Press



Family and Education

bap. 12 Mar. 1569, s. of Robert Gostlin of Norwich, Norf., grocer.1 educ. Norwich cathedral sch.; Caius, Camb. 1582, BA 1587, MA 1590, MD 1602; incorp. Oxf. 1612. unm. d. 21 Oct. 1626.2

Offices Held

Fell. Caius 1592-1619, dean 1592, 1594, 1598, registrar 1593, bursar 1597, master 1619-d.;3 proctor, Camb. Univ. 1600, v.-chan. 1619, 1625-d., Regius prof. of medicine 1623-d.4

Commr. gaol delivery, Cambridge, Cambs. 1623, j.p. 1624-d.5


More like a yeoman than an academic in appearance, with rugged features and a bull neck, Gostlin belonged to a family resident in Norwich since at least the late fourteenth century. His father, a prosperous grocer, achieved high civic status as a sheriff and alderman. Having shown promise at the local grammar school, Gostlin progressed to Caius College, Cambridge, where he secured a scholarship and then a fellowship. An active college officer, he found favour with the master, Thomas Legge, whom he later described as his ‘worthy friend and patron’. He also distinguished himself as university proctor in 1600, around this time forming an enduring bond with George Montaigne, subsequently a bishop with anti-Calvinist leanings.6 When Legge died in July 1607, Gostlin was the popular candidate to succeed him as master, but his election was conducted with indecent haste while many of the fellows were absent, and the result was immediately challenged. Notwithstanding dubious allegations that he and his supporters inclined towards popery, the undisputable breaches of electoral procedure told against him, and he was obliged to submit himself to the pleasure of the university’s chancellor, the 1st earl of Salisbury (Robert Cecil†). In December, while disavowing any ‘personal distaste or exception’ against Gostlin, Salisbury overturned the election, awarding the mastership instead to William Branthwaite, a solidly Calvinist outsider who had won the king’s favour through his work on the Authorized Version of the Bible.7

Mortified by this outcome, Gostlin withdrew from Cambridge and established a medical practice at Exeter, Devon. Although he apparently possessed no family ties with the county, he could rely there on the patronage of the lord lieutenant, the 3rd earl of Bath, a former Caius student and friend of Thomas Legge who was already employing Thomas Hinson*, sometime fellow of the college. Gostlin, who retained his own fellowship, evidently left the university with reluctance, referring to Devon as ‘those western rocks whence the vehement loves of a kind society, unsought for, suddenly called him’. He bitterly resented the interruption to his academic pursuits, and later described himself as having been ‘hidden ... in the remotest corner of our island, an exile, and absent from the Muses and their study: by long disuse forgetful of arts and letters’. Nevertheless, his medical career prospered, and 12 years after his disgrace he possessed an estate worth £1,557 7s. 2d. in money and lands, besides houses in Norwich and Exeter.8

In 1614 Gostlin was elected to Parliament for Barnstaple on the nomination of the earl of Bath, who controlled one seat there. He may have been drafted in at short notice, as the earl’s usual nominee, Hinson, was too ill to stand, and indeed died a few weeks later. According to one of his biographers, Gostlin possessed ‘great fluency of speech’, besides ‘a sound and well regulated judgment’, but he apparently failed to demonstrate these qualities at Westminster, and left no mark on the Commons’ records. Nevertheless, he retained his patron’s high regard, and was later appointed an overseer of the earl’s will.9

Gostlin was recalled to Cambridge in 1615 to act as ‘respondent’ in the examinations for medical degrees held during one of James I’s visits. He is said to have fulfilled his duties with aplomb, but the king was no more favourably disposed towards him when the mastership of Caius fell vacant again in January 1619. Clearly still suspecting him of Catholic leanings, James immediately stipulated that the fellows must choose a man ‘sound and untainted in religion’. A few days later, Salisbury’s former secretary, (Sir) Thomas Wilson*, emerged as the preferred royal candidate, but a draft order for his election was never sent. This time Gostlin had a vital ally at Court, his old friend George Montaigne, now bishop of Lincoln and the king’s almoner. Aware that his theological views were the principal obstacle to his preferment, he advised Gostlin to lobby the royal favourite, Buckingham, for an opportunity to clear his name with James. Montaigne also wrote to John Packer*, Buckingham’s secretary, denying vehemently that Gostlin was ‘popishly affected’, and hinting that he was even considering ordination. This lobbying paid off, and on 23 Feb. the university’s chancellor, the 1st earl of Suffolk, formally approved Gostlin’s election as master.10

Finally ‘come out of the wilderness’, as Montaigne triumphantly put it, Gostlin’s abilities were immediately tested, as his predecessor Branthwaite was also vice-chancellor at the time of his death, and the new master was promptly selected to complete his term of office. Having successfully negotiated this hurdle, he presided over a period of rare tranquillity at Caius, and also oversaw a major building project at the college, the creation of two new blocks of student accommodation. By 1623 the religious climate at Court had changed significantly, and Gostlin was appointed Regius professor of medicine, with the full backing of the university’s hierarchy, in order to block the advancement of a puritan rival. Noted as ‘a strict man in keeping, and magistrate in pressing, the statutes of college and university, and a severe punisher of the infringers thereof’, he was again chosen as vice-chancellor two years later, but was taken seriously ill in the autumn of 1626. Under his will, drawn up on 19 Oct., he endowed four scholarships at Caius, and left a Cambridge inn to the impoverished foundation of St. Catherine’s Hall. On his deathbed he finally dispelled any doubts about his orthodoxy, receiving absolution and communion according to the Anglican rites, which he then commended to the witnesses. Gostlin died on 21 Oct., unmarried and childless. He was buried, at his own request, close to his old friend Dr. Legge in the college chapel. The funeral expenses came to £117 16s. 8½ d. No other members of his family are known to have entered Parliament.11

Ref Volumes: 1604-1629

Authors: Tim Venning / Paul Hunneyball


  • 1. Al. Cant.; Freemen of Norwich ed. P. Millican, 71.
  • 2. J. Venn, Biog. Hist. of Gonville and Caius College, iii. 74, 78; Al. Ox.
  • 3. Venn, i. 116; iii. 74.
  • 4. Al. Cant.; Venn, iii. 76-7.
  • 5. C181/3, ff. 82, 122, 197.
  • 6. Venn, iii. 76-7, 82; Cal. of Norwich Freemen 1317-1603 ed. W. Rye, 62; City of Norwich Recs. ed. W. Hudson and J.C. Tingey, ii. 145, 347; K. Fincham and P. Lake, ‘Ecclesiastical Policies of Jas. I and Chas. I’, in Early Stuart Church ed. K. Fincham, 35.
  • 7. HMC Hatfield, xix. 203-6, 364-7; Venn, iii. 70.
  • 8. Venn, iii. 74, 79-80; J. Roberts, ‘Armada Lord Lieutenant’, Reps. and Trans. Devon Assoc. ciii. 114, 119; Al. Cant.
  • 9. Roberts, 119; Venn, iii. 77.
  • 10. Venn, iii. 75-77; CSP Dom. 1619-23, p. 9.
  • 11. Venn, iii. 76, 78-9, 81-3; CSP Dom. 1619-23, p. 613; T. Fuller, Worthies, ii. 489; PROB 11/150, ff. 324-5; Al. Cant.