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.