16 February 2011

Hugh Curwen (2)

I had better make it plain that, in cultural terms, Curwen was Archbishop of an English see. An Englishman himself, he went to a Dublin which, socially, politically, and religiously defined itself as part of the 'Englishry', as opposed to the 'Irishry' beyond the Pale ... in the rest of Gaelic or Gaelicised Ireland. The whole of Dublin's ecclesiastical structure was English; and one very amusing example of how this tension between the Englishry and the Irishry played out is provided by Curwen's predecessor, Archbishop Browne.

Browne, rather like Thomas Cranmer, had been so far infected by the new heresies that he had contracted a form of marriage, and maintained his floosy on a remote episcopal manor. But, when in 1541 Henry VIII attempted to reinforce the discipline of clerical celibacy, this left Browne in a very difficult position. His enemies knew of his marriage, and were able to use it to blackmail him in terms of policy. Of course, it was never in their interest to go for the 'nuclear option' of sending a full account to London; once you blow your information, you lose all hold over the victim of your blackmail. So matters were ... adjusted. Mrs Browne was disposed of to become Mrs Bathe; the archiepiscopal bastards were provided for. When the reign of Edward Tudor began, and clerical marriage was legalised, Browne heaved a great sigh of relief; the new King was of such tender years that the reign was clearly destined to be a long one. Mrs Bathe was sent for, and resumed the dignity of Mrs Browne.

But of course, the pious stripling was soon assumed to his eternal reward, and in the Marian restoration, Browne had to do some very nippy footwork with Cardinal Pole to regularise his position ... and Mrs Browne reverted to Bathehood. (Yes, I know you want to know what became of her ... after Bathe, she had three more husbands and lived until the 1590s. Clearly, she had been a young and lusty wench when first she graced the primatial couch. What a shame that no portrait of her is known to survive. She encapsulates the problems involved in gambling upon one's guesses during the decades of the Tricky Tudors.)

The significance of all this is that clerical celibacy was not merely an element in traditional Catholic discipline, but was something even closer to home: one of those things that the 'Englishry' of the Pale saw as distinguishing them from the Gaelic culture of the rest of Ireland ... where concubinage was rife among the clergy*. Celibacy was the proof that the Dublin clergy were 'English' rather than 'Irish'. It set the seal on a culture where English language, English law, and English cathedral structures (and the Sarum 'use' at the altar) were the order of the day. It was part of a public demonstration of the superiority of the English culture of the Pale over the despised barbarism perceived to reign in Gaelic Ireland.


*I remember once doing a little work upon the clergy of the diocese of Ardfert, alias Kerry, the Kingdom of the West, where never ending 'dispensations from the impediment of bastardy' punctuate the sucession of clergy who were obviously inheriting the family business, generation after generation, from Dad.

No comments: