15 February 2011

The enigma of Hugh Curwen (1)

We all have myths and quite often they need tidying up. For example: that upon the accession of Elizabeth 'my-father-said-I-was-a-bastard' Tudor, all the English bishops except for one Welshman refused to take the oath of Supremacy. This fails to take account of suffragan bishops, such as the bishops of Bedford, Berwick, Hull, Shrewsbury, and Thetford. It also fails to take account of the enigmatic figure of Hugh Curwen (pronounced Curen).

A fascinating and fairly recent book, Enforcing the English Reformation in Ireland, by James Murray, gives Curwen some context. He was one of Cardinal Pole's choices of reliable and reforming bishops who would bring the Counter-Reformation to the British Isles and would staunchly maintain the rights of the Church and of the Roman Primacy - what you might call a very 'Duffy' figure. He was papally 'provided' as Archbishop of Dublin, and consecrated by Bonner in Old S Paul's Cathedral in 1555, the Pallium having been granted even before his Consecration. He was thorough and resolute in restoring the supremacy of the Catholic Faith in the Diocese of Dublin. But, upon Elizabeth's acquisition of power, he (as we say) 'conformed'.

Historians, not surprisingly, have found it easy to regard Curwen as an episcopal denizen of Bray, especially since he had tolerated all the changes since 1541. Murray, through a careful examination of minutiae, demonstrates a strong likehood that Curwen was a 'Church Papist'; that he remained opposed to to the Reformation but stayed in post in order to have his hands on the mechanisms of episcopal jurisdiction, with a deliberate intention of thus frustrating and obstructing government religious policy. In this, he was successful; the Reformation never did take hold in Dublin; it remained a Catholic city until our own generation. Of course, his enemies reported his doings to London; he was an'unprofitable workman', a 'living enemy of the truth', a 'disguised dissembler' who was unwilling to further 'our business'. Inevitably, Curwen attempted in 1564 to exculpate himself by assuring the Tudor despot that the 'sinister information' which had made her 'conceive some misliking towards me and my doings' was untrue. As Murray puts it, "From this point on ... the Archbishop knew that it would be increasingly difficult to sustain his outwardly conformist attitude to the established religion, while at the same time continuing to defend the interests of the old religion and his conservative clergy".
Continues.

6 comments:

Conchúr said...

Actually Dublin became majority Protestant in the early 1640s after thousands of Planters fled to Dublin in the aftermath of the 1641 Rebellion and the English garrison expelled most of the (Old English) Catholic population. There was subsequently a renewed encouragement of (New English) Protestant settlement in Dublin. It wasn't until the 1740s that the population became majority Catholic again after sustained migration from rural areas.

Sir Watkin said...

all the English bishops except for one Welshman

There is no evidence that Anthony Kitchin/Dunstan was Welsh, tho' he occupied a Welsh See and was the first bishop of Llandaff for a century to reside in the diocese. It is more likely that he was English.

William Tighe said...

Had Elizabeth Tudor reigned for about the same space of time as her half-brother (6 yrs, 5 mos, 8 days) or half-sister (5 yrs, 5 mos, 11 days), his compliance might well have seemed "good policy," but as it was ...

How did Curwen conduct himself as Bishop of Oxford? Or was he too decrepit during his brief tenure of the see to make any impression?

William Tighe said...

My mistake: 5 yrs, 4 mos, 11 days for Good Queen Mary.

Nebuly said...

Similarly George Dowdall, appointed to Armagh by the King, attempted a Catholic reform as what might be called a 'Church Papist'. Incapable of conforming to the errors of Edward's ecclesiastical polity he fled. He was provided by the Pope on the accession of Queen Mary

William Tighe said...

Abp. Curwen's decision to accept, and even promote, the Irish "Reformation legislation" of 1560, arguably in the hope of subverting it from within, caused, or at least revealed, a rift between his followers and those of the then late Archbishop Dowdall of Armagh (who died early in 1558); the latter resisted the legislation, and were subsequently deprived for refusing it.