18 February 2011

Hugh Curwen (3)

ContinuesOld and ill, and panicking that Elizabeth Tudor's regime would discover the extent to which he had been frustrating its Protestant intentions, Hugh Curwen, English Archbishop of the 'English' see of Dublin, left Ireland in 1567 to become Bishop of Oxford. He there occupied a bishopric which had never been able to get itself properly organised since Henry VII established the See in the former abbey church at Oseney, here in the Western suburbs of Oxford. Within two or three years, Tudor had decided to save money by suppressing the cathedral at Oseney and transferring the See to the chaotic building site upon which Cardinal Wolsey had founded Cardinal College. The projected Chapel there, which Wolsey had intended to surpass King's College Chapel in Cambridge in its splendour*, had not risen above ground level (it never did) when the Cardinal fell from grace; and worship perforce continued to be held in the Priory Church of S Frideswide, which, marked for replacement, was already partially demolished. The question of whether the Bishop of Oxford was entitled to regard as his palace the buildings of the former monastic college of Gloucester Hall [Worcester College is now on this site], here in S Thomas's parish, was to rumble on in litigation for generations (in fact, Gloucester Hall was already notorious, when Curwen arrived, as a full-blooded 'recusant' appendage of the 'Church papist' college of S John's). So Curwen settled into an episcopal residence near Burford in Oxfordshire, and died a few months later.

After Thomas Goldwell, the friend who anointed Pole on his death-bed and bishop-elect of Oxford, was unable to take possession of his See because of the accession of Elizabeth Tudor**, the See had been vacant for nearly a decade. After Curwen's death, it remained vacant until John Underhill took possession in 1589. Thus it was not until 1589 that Oxford, rife with recusancy and church popery, received a bishop who had been consecrated according to the Anglican Ordinal and had a mind to impose Protestantism. I wonder if anyone has ever researched the actual administration of the diocese (which in those days encompassed only the County of Oxfordshire) during this remarkable thirty-year episcopal hiatus.

Curwen is the the English Marian Archbishop who 'conformed'; the man who wasn't a hero. But who are we to condemn an old man who used his extensive training in Canon Law to protect the Faith and to frustrate the heretics while he placed his own soul in danger?


* Colvin, Unbuilt Oxford.
** He was the sole representative of the English episcopate at Trent.


Joshua said...

Is Oxford unique among mainstream Anglican sees (of that age or subsequent) by being left vacant for so long?

William Tighe said...

Ely was kept vacant from 1581 to 1600 so that the rapacious Queen could pocket the see's revenues, and the equally rapacious Lord North some of its lands. The entry in Wikipedia for Bishop Cox:


happily acknowledges the falsehood of a letter purportedly from the Queen to Cox threatening to depose him, but the actual correspondence between North, Cox and the queen, which I transcribed many years ago, demonstrates the truth of a "Se non e vero, e ben trovato" view of the 18th-Century forgery.

William Tighe said...

I posted the wring link in my immediately past comment. the correct one is:


"The queen herself intervened, when he refused to grant Ely House to her favorite, Sir Christopher Hatton; but the well-known letter beginning "Proud Prelate" and threatening to unfrock him seems to be an impudent forgery which first saw the light in the Annual Register for 1761. It hardly, however, misrepresents the queen's meaning, and Cox was forced to give way. These and other trials led him to resign his see in 1580, and it is significant that it remained vacant for nineteen years."

Once I Was A Clever Boy said...

From what i have seen of published material the diocese of Oxford carried on quite well without a Bishop with the Archdeacon holding his court much as his pre-Reformation predecessors had done. The diocese doubtless imported clergy ordained elsewhere, and the Oxford colleges had links to other sees for ordaining their young men, and as patrons of many parishes in the diocese could provide parish clergy. Appointments were presumably as with any other sede vacante diocese.
Being without a Bishop might be seen as a nice precedent for the post Oxford Movement tradition of each rector or vicar being 'Bishop in his own parish' ...

AllsVanityAll said...

There is something curiously missing in the historical account. Why was Curwen appointed Bishop of Oxford? Maybe the reason why has not survived in the historical record. But I would like to know if possible. Appointment to Oxford seems like a mark of personal favor from the Crown - did Curwen have some powerful friend at court?

William Tighe said...

Possibly, AVA; but it might also to have been simply to remove him from Dublin (for which he had been pleading for some time) in order to replace him (as came to pass) with the hyper-Protestant Archbishop of Armagh, Adam Loftus.

AllsVanityAll said...

Dr T - Surely you know 16th century history better than I. So better minds than I, perhaps, are satisfied that Curwen was translated to Oxford merely to protestantize the Irish episcopate further.
But, it seems to me that a both/and explanation would be stronger than an either/or. That is, the crown (or, powerful servants thereof) wanted to both protestantize the Irish bishops further and reward Curwen for what he had done. Oxford after all had been vacant, so it was something of a reward waiting on the shelf for the next churchman who ought to be commended.
I think of the case of Grindal. Admittedly in that case there was no higher post to translate him to. But they just fired Grindal (in effect) and gave him nothing to say "sorry about that, but we do appreciate how you did the job".

William Tighe said...

You might well be right about it being a case of "both ... and" rather than "either ... or," AVA.