12 June 2017

Hugh Curwen (3)

Old and ill, and perhaps 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.

So this year is the 450th anniversary of Curwen's brief occupancy of the See of Oxford. (His Election was confirmed by the Crown on the 8th of October.)

He came to a bishopric which had never been able to get itself properly organised since Henry VII established the See in the magnificent former abbey church at Oseney in the Western suburbs of modern 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] 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 in the autumn of 1568.

Thomas Goldwell, the friend who anointed Pole on his death-bed and was in 1558 bishop-elect of Oxford, had been unable to take possession of his See because of the accession of Elizabeth Tudor**. So, when Curwen was appointed in 1567, the See had been vacant for nearly a decade. After Curwen's death, it remained vacant until John Underhill took possession in 1589, during what some historians call the "second reign" of Elizabeth: which began in 1584 when the monarch entered upon new extremes of savagery in the torture of Catholics***. 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. The actual day by day administration of the diocese (which in those days encompassed only the County of Oxfordshire) had presumably been in the hands of the Archdeacon and his Court, throughout this remarkable thirty-year episcopal hiatus ... longer even than the sede vacante which Bloody Bess notoriously contrived at Ely so that she could milk the revenues of that See.

Curwen is 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? Especially if we spent so many decades ourselves as 'Church Papists'?

* Colvin, Unbuilt Oxford.
** He was the sole representative of the English episcopate at Trent.
*** John Guy Elizabeth The Forgotten Years.


Mark D. said...

Clergy like Curwen were likely motivated by a desire to maintain as much of the Catholic faith as possible in hopes of a restoration within their lifetimes or soon after, along the lines of what happened when Good Queen Mary ascended the throne after the death of her little brother Edward VI. If one thought that a Catholic monarch was on the horizon, whether King Philip II or Mary Queen of Scots or someone else -- or perhaps even the conversion of Bloody Bess herself -- why not "hunker down in place," do what one could to protect the Catholics in one's diocese or parish, foster Catholic devotion as much as possible, and frustrate the heretics in their efforts to destroy the faith? In hindsight, we know such an approach was doomed to failure, but they didn't know that. The children of Henry VIII (both legitimate and illegitimate) were not hardy folk, and the previous two Tudor monarchs were not long upon the throne, so why would people have assumed that Bloody Bess would be any different? Conform outwardly, in hopes of a later restoration. Not a martyr's path, but given England's history at that time, not an unreasonable one from a worldly perspective.

El Codo said...

What internal agonies did he endure? Fearing exposure as a Papist yet knowing he was not "out" like our heroic martyrs. We must give thanks that in our times we are able to make that journey,to swim the Tiber without dismemberment and suffering.O Oxford,beating heart of the Faith!

Woody said...

Instead of the Tiber, which seems quite roiled at present, you perhaps should swim the Dnieper with me (for the Ukrainian Greek Catholics, just to be sure).